Wait! Before you go...

Subscribe to TheShift e-newsletter for LCA and sustainability resources and news.

Leveraging Newly Gathered Data on Silicon Chips and e-Waste

ESG’s Amos Ncube Sees Opportunity for IC Reuse, Circular Practices

Research to be presented at upcoming Electronics Goes Green conference addresses importance of responsible end-of-life (EOL) management of ICs

Source: Semiconductor Industry Association's 2024 Fact Book

Silicon chips are a defining product of our era, powering artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and a host of other applications. But with hundreds of billions of these integrated circuits (ICs) manufactured each year, and rapid obsolescence of the devices that contain them, the traditional linear economic approach to their production poses an increasing number of issues.

New research from EarthShift Global, to be presented by senior sustainability analyst Amos Ncube at the upcoming Electronics Goes Green conference in Berlin, addresses the importance of responsible end-of-life (EOL) management of ICs, with particular focus on the possibility of IC reuse as an avenue to address the high impacts of chip manufacturing and the growing problem of electronic waste (e-waste).

The work draws on information gathered under a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) program, in which Amos and other EarthShift Global team members partnered with Aftan Engineering and Schaffer Environmental LLC to review available literature and conduct expert interviews with a range of stakeholders across the electronics sector, including the EOL supply chain. 

“The NIST research, particularly the stakeholder engagement, provided us with insights into the industry, and has enabled us to assess the factors that influence feasibility of IC reuse, including regulatory frameworks, market trends, technological advancements, and consumer behaviors,” notes Amos. “A shift from a linear economic model to a circular one has great potential to reduce environmental and health risks associated with improper e-waste disposal, through recycling and especially reuse of that waste.”

By identifying existing gaps in research and implementation related to IC harvesting techniques, reuse protocols, and development of market incentives, Amos and his co-authors are able to suggest collaborative efforts between Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and IC harvesters that can address the identified challenges. Points of emphasis include the importance of further research to improve testing protocols, advance recovery technologies, and establish market mechanisms that support IC reuse.

“There are many stakeholders involved, and a host of logistical and technological challenges, which means that a collective approach is needed to create a conducive environment for IC reuse,” says Amos. This improved collaboration would be an important step towards broader adoption of circular economy practices across the electronics sector.

The third Electronics Goes Green conference, to be held June 18 – 20 in Berlin, will bring together hundreds of participants from all parts of the world to explore environmental effects of mature and emerging technologies and materials, including Life Cycle Assessment of electronic components, LCA data management along the supply chain, and Circular Economy Strategies. Managed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, in cooperation with the Technical University Berlin, it is part of the Going Green conference series that also includes CARE Innovation (Austria), EcoDesign (Japan), and ISSST (USA).