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Chip Makers to Work to Cut Global-Warming Chemicals

Environment: Firms, EPA reach agreement on voluntary program to reduce use of efficient heat-trapping compounds.

March 10, 2001|GARY POLAKOVIC | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

Semiconductor manufacturers have reached an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to trim use of long-lived chemicals that contribute to global warming.

Under a voluntary program announced Friday, members of the Semiconductor Industry Assn. agreed to reduce use of "perfluorocompounds" over the course of this decade by 10% from 1995 levels. The chemicals, which are used to clean semiconductor-making equipment and etch silicon wafers to create circuitry patterns, are 10,000 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than common greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

The agreement represents expansion of a worldwide effort to reduce use of the chemicals. The semiconductor makers are the only industry working globally to reduce greenhouse gases, said Sally Rand, director of voluntary industry partnerships for the EPA.

"It's unprecedented. This is an extraordinary example of an industry working together for environmental protection," Rand said.

Twenty-one companies, many of them based in Silicon Valley, belonging to the Semiconductor Industry Assn. are scheduled to sign the voluntary agreement Tuesday in Washington. Among the companies participating are Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and NEC Electronics Inc.

"We're as concerned about global warming as everyone else, and this is something we have to step up and do," said Bill Callahan of National Semiconductor Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif. "It will be a significant cost," he said. No specific cost figures were available.

Perfluorocompounds are the chemical cousins of the substances found in refrigerants that erode the Earth's protective ozone shield, but that is not the reason the EPA has targeted the compounds. Once in the atmosphere, the chemicals can trap heat for 2,000 to 50,000 years. Though the emissions are not as voluminous as greenhouse gases released by power plants and cars, perfluorocompounds are a significant contributor to global climate change, Rand said.

Achieving the reduction targets probably will require chemical reformulations and changes in manufacturing processes. Reducing use of the compounds "is going to be a real challenge because the industry is growing," said Dave Stangis, manager of corporate responsibility for Intel.

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