Electronic Products & Technology

MIT-led research team aims to minimize enviro impact associated with electronics

By Elizabeth A. Thomson, MIT Materials Research Laboratory   

Electronics Regulations & Standards Engineering Environmental environmental

The microchips behind everything from smart phones to medical imaging can be traced to about 500 Megatonnes of CO2-eq lifetime emissions in 2021, and every year the world produces more than 50 million tons of electronic waste. Further, the huge data centers necessary for complex computations like on-demand video, are growing and will require ten percent of the world’s electricity by 2030.

“This is neither scalable nor sustainable, and cannot continue,” says Dr. Anuradha Murthy Agarwal, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Materials Research Laboratory.

Logo for FUTUR-IC, a new Global Alliance for Sustainable Microchip Manufacturing. Credit: FUTUR-IC, a new Global Alliance for Sustainable Microchip Manufacturing

To that end, Agarwal and colleagues have formed FUTUR-IC, a new Global Alliance for Sustainable Microchip Manufacturing, to perform research that will create novel high performance electronic-photonic integration technology while targeting circularity, with a STEM-trained green innovative workforce. FUTUR-IC is the result of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator’s Track I: Sustainable Materials for Global Challenges, headed by Program Director, Dr. Linda Molnar. It is aimed at solving especially compelling societal or scientific challenges to sustainability using a multi-disciplinary approach that both captures the full product life cycle through the advancement of fundamental science, and uses circular design to create environmental and economically sustainable materials and products.

On December 15, 2023 the NSF Convergence Accelerator announced that FUTUR-IC has advanced to Phase 2 of the program. The new funding—five million dollars over three years—will support ongoing research across the three dimensions of technology-ecology-workforce conceived during Phase 1.

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FUTUR-IC, a reference to the future of integrated circuits, brings together stakeholders from industry, academia, and government. The market for microelectronics in the next ten years is predicted to be on the order of a trillion dollars, but most of the manufacturing supply chain for the industry resides only in limited geographical pockets around the world. FUTUR-IC aims to diversify and strengthen the supply chain for manufacturing and packaging of electronics and photonics.

The alliance already has 26 collaborators, and is growing. Current external collaborators include the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI), Tyndall National Institute, SEMI, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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