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Samsung Austin Semiconductor facilities director talks water sustainability efforts

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Samsung Austin Semiconductor facilities director Zac Rosenbaum speaking at the American Water Summit. AUSTIN - At Samsung Austin Semiconductor, the water in the semiconductor manufacturing process is so clean that it isn't safe for human consumption and the air in our clean rooms is 1,000 times cleaner than a surgical room. The person in charge of making sure all those items are running smoothly is facilities director Zac Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum started at Samsung Austin Semiconductor in 2006 in the Photo department but after a year he moved into Facilities. In his role today, Rosenbaum oversees the most complex utilities at one of the most advanced semiconductor fabs in the world.
With water playing a critical role in semiconductor manufacturing, Samsung has been developing partnerships with other industry leaders to understand the current state of water sustainability and what the industry needs to do to reach its sustainability goals. As one of the largest consumers of water in the Austin region, we are committed to being a leading steward of one of the world's and the region's most precious natural resources. In 2021, Samsung Austin Semiconductor purchased 2,205 million gallons of water from Austin Water, 960 million of which was recycled. We sit down with Rosenbaum and talk to him about what technologies we're using to recycle the water we use and what is the future of water sustainability. Samsung Austin Semiconductor: Describe ultra-pure water (UPW) and why it's critical in the semiconductor manufacturing process? Rosenbaum: We have to take the same water that you drink out of the faucet and turn that into something that is completely pure and has nothing else in it-it's just H2O at the end. Whatever minerals were in the water are stripped leaving us with ultra-pure water. This is extremely critical because the ultra-pure water is used in the cleaning of the wafers. Every wafer is touched by that water many times over so it has to be ultra-pure to be able to meet the requirements so we're not damaging the wafers. The chips on the wafers have extremely small features; where even a human hair can damage the entire chip and make it unusable. Samsung Austin Semiconductor: As a large consumer of water, how does Samsung Austin Semiconductor use methods to reduce, reuse and recycle the water that it does use? Rosenbaum: Because we are a big user, we have a very big responsibility. We know we have to be sustainable in what we do, and as an industry we're pushing to be more sustainable than we have ever been. We have to use all avenues: we need more water reclaim, more recycle, more innovative ideas and more water restoration projects. We want to be leaders in water stewardship in the region, industry and globally. The UPW is just the end quality water that touches the wafer. We are using different levels of slightly less clean water in areas in the plant. Essentially, we're making water cleaner all the way until its used on the wafer and then we're pulling out some of that water all along the way to use in other parts of the process. We're doing our best to be extremely efficient with the water we do use and if we can reuse it, we do. Additionally, when it's humid outside, we capture the moisture in the air and use that water onsite. On the back end of water sustainability comes a focus on wastewater treatment and bulk waste liquid management. As an example, a few years ago we implemented a copper ion exchange treatment process. The previous process required a large amount of chemicals and the solids generated to treat that copper had to be sent to a landfill. Copper ion exchange uses a media to capture the copper, which can then be used for an inlet product for another company. As part of our sustainability efforts, our vision is that every waste stream would find a beneficial reuse rather than ending up in a landfill or incineration. Copper recovery via ion exchange technology is an example of that approach. Samsung Austin Semiconductor: How do we collaborate with local officials when it comes to future water planning and how do we plan for water shortages? Rosenbaum: For our Austin campus, we have regular meetings with Austin Water to understand how their operations are going on their wastewater system so nothing that we do would impact them and the environment. We are also having discussions on how we plan for the future and the city's growth. We've reviewed their 2070 roadmap and where they're going the next 50 years so we understand where that fits within our plans and we can coordinate with them to be a better partner. Samsung Austin Semiconductor: You've recently spoke at the Austin Water Summit and attended other water-focused conferences. What are your main takeaways from these conferences? Rosenbaum: I try to develop partnerships to allow us, along with the entire semiconductor industry, to reach our environmental, sustainability and governance goals sooner. Whether that's in discussion with other end users or other vendors, we want to figure out solutions to get there faster. It's a 'sustainability journey' for all of us. At the American Water Summit, it wasn't only the semiconductor industry that is trying to solve this problem and trying to make improvements. I talked to a lot of leaders in the Food and Beverage industry and they've made really good progress. They're trying to offset the water that's taken out in their product. I enjoy getting connected with the rest of the industry to help influence the future. Samsung Austin Semiconductor: What role does technology play in this? Rosenbaum: For the sustainability goals we have as a company, the technology is not all there yet. That goes for water, greenhouse gases, all of the different goals we have, the technology is not all there yet. We're going to need to drive vendor technology development and/or develop technology jointly with vendors to be able to get where we want to be. It's a super challenging goal, but we're working towards it. Samsung Austin Semiconductor: What excites you about the future of water sustainability? Rosenbaum: What I'm excited about is the forward looking plans, seeing us pivot as an overall company and helping to move the company to where we're headed in the next seven-plus years. We've made a lot of incremental improvements so far and what we have going forward will have to be fundamental changes to be able to get there. We've been honored with Austin Water's Pretreatment Award for years, and that's a huge accomplishment, but what can we do next to move the needle? At the new Taylor facility, I'm excited about the water reclamation facility, which will be a first for us locally. With a reclamation facility, the water that leaves our site, we will clean it and bring it back into the facility and use it again. We'll implement it in Taylor and benchmark it for potential implementation at the Austin fab. All of these pieces gives us a path and vision forward. It's a big challenge to figure out which makes it more fun. Community Partnerships
As part of our commitment to being a good steward of the environment along with being a good neighbor, Samsung Austin Semiconductor partners with organizations such as the Colorado River Alliance. In 2022, we donated $20,000 to the Colorado River Alliance to support their Mobile River and Community Wide Cleanup. The grant allowed the nonprofit to make updates and repairs to its traveling water science program for middle school students.