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Thought Leadership
Advanced Industries
Santa Clara

Thrifted Water – How One Facility is Applying Simple Solutions to Make a Big Impact

In short, reducing our environmental impact can be as simple as taking what we already have and making something more of it.

Born and raised in Oregon, I am predictably committed to the preservation of our natural resources. Fortunately enough, as one of JE Dunn’s core values, sustainable efforts have marked my career in construction.  My most recent contribution to conservation has been at a R&D facility in Silicon Valley, where I supported the design, install, and startup of a system that saves an average of 1 million gallons of water per month. With owner’s now placing a premium on sustainable practices, innovative solutions for conserving resources are top priority. In particular, this system installation was simple in concept, but elaborate in its positive impact to the facility and surrounding environment.

Based on conventional wisdom, water and computers don’t mix – and to a large extent, that’s true. Unless you have prior industry experience, most people are not aware that water is a critical resource in the manufacturing of computer chips. At a semiconductor manufacturing facility, water is utilized in two ways: to clean products and to move heat. On average, a semiconductor manufacturing facility can consume between 5-10 million gallons of water in a day. For comparison, the orca whale tanks at Sea World Orlando hold about 6 million gallons of water. These facilities are using water from the same sources that you are – the rivers, streams, wells, and lakes that provide all municipal drinking water.

Climate data provides evidence that our current water use is unsustainable, and the future supply of water is becoming less reliable and predictable. In a release from the Public Policy Institute of California, Jeffrey Mount and Ellen Hanak point out that the San Francisco Bay and South Coast areas are the most demanding urban water users in California, and in general, Californians need to adapt to the increasing drought intensity. Water is a finite, unpredictable, and expensive resource that is critical to the financial success of all semiconductor manufacturers.  If the taps feeding these factories went dry, the implications on our lives would be felt – production stops, prices increase, and hundreds of industries suffer. We are at a point where conservation is no longer a moral obligation – it is a philosophy that should be utilized to reduce the risk of critically impacting business operations and secure future profitability.

In collaboration with our client, SSOE, Novate, Therma, and Cupertino Electric, JE Dunn has managed the design, install, and startup of a new reclaim process water system that intercepts discharge from the wastewater treatment system for use in the industrial cold water loop. To the average reader this may sound complex, but the overall concept is refreshingly simple.

To simplify the concept, let’s think of something far more relatable – your kitchen sink at home. The water generated from washing your hands or dishes is dirty, relatively speaking, and wouldn’t be suitable for drinking. However, it would be useful for other tasks like watering your garden or washing your car. Depending on the end user, water has the opportunity for a second life. That very statement is the driving philosophy in the wastewater reclaim system JE Dunn installed: Utilize “secondhand” water where it makes sense to reduce demand for new water from the City. I’m sure we are all familiar with thrifting; but maybe never realized it also has industrial applications.

I credit the system Owner and JE Dunn’s Design Manager, Bob Spendle, for the ingenuity of the solution and addressing this sustainability issue with our project team.

“I recommend trying JE Dunn to benchmark them against other firms, and I guarantee you will be impressed”, said the Confidential Semiconductor Manufacturing Client’s Engineer.  “I engineered a custom water saving system in Excel, and JE Dunn’s Project Management provided excellent project management and construction management services to permit and build the custom water saving system.  I find JE Dunn benchmarks competitively against all the top construction firms in the United States, and I am super impressed by the project results.  During project closeout, the JE Dunn team understood the engineered system better than I which distinguishes JE Dunn from other construction companies too.”  (Name redacted in the interest of client confidentiality)

Within the first month of operation, the system successfully reclaimed over 1 million gallons of water. In the time it took to read this article, it’s reasonable to estimate that the reclaim process water system has curbed the demand for almost 340 gallons of water. Semiconductor manufacturing facilities, also known as fabs, have not always been regarded as “good neighbors.” However, with the industries growing commitment to achieving more with less, resulting in less disruption the surrounding communities, the future of fabs is exciting.

In short, reducing our environmental impact can be as simple as taking what we already have and making something more of it. This is possible even in a facility as complex as those creating computer chips. To me, it has been rewarding to embrace JE Dunn’s core value of sustainability through a low-cost and ingenious system.

 

Ben Kallen
Project Manager

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