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Inside Micron Singapore’s sustainability journey

The chipmaker has been doubling down on sustainability efforts in Singapore by tapping solar power, recycling water and waste, as well as treating greenhouse gases, in a bid to achieve net zero by 2050

US chipmaker Micron produces 98% of its NAND flash memory products in Singapore, making the city-state a major node in its global manufacturing operations. With a footprint spanning four wafer fabrication plants, as well as a test and assembly site, the company has been doubling down on sustainability initiatives in Singapore in recent years.

Chen Kok Sing, corporate vice-president and country manager of Micron Singapore, noted that as semiconductor manufacturing is resource intensive, the company is mindful of the resources it consumes, like water and gas, not only from a cost perspective, but also the impact on the environment. 

In 2016, it published its first sustainability report detailing its sustainability strategy and the progress it has made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water usage. Micron Singapore was also the first semiconductor wafer fab to be recognised by the World Economic Forum as an Industry 4.0 Global Lighthouse in 2020 and Sustainability Lighthouse two years later.

The Industry 4.0 Global Lighthouse award recognises organisations for the use of artificial intelligence (AI), smart control systems, automation and predictive maintenance, while the Sustainability Lighthouse award recognises how well they optimise their use of resources. Micron, for example, had managed to reduce the resources used per gigabyte of products it makes by 45% from 2018 to 2021.

The achievements of Micron’s sustainability efforts can be traced to the “holistic approach” that drives accountability across the organisation and efforts to inculcate the right culture and mindset among employees. “Everybody understood the impact of sustainability, so we don’t have a problem with that, but it’s still important that everybody understands and buys into it,” Chen said.

Earlier this year, Micron announced a target to reduce 42% of emissions across its global operations from 2020 levels by 2030. In Singapore, Micron was also the first to pilot a central abatement system that treats and detoxifies greenhouse gases, paving the way for cleaner air while avoiding carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the amount absorbed by 7.4 million trees.

When it comes to water usage, Chen noted that being in Singapore has been an advantage, due to the country’s Newater programme that recycles treated used water into ultra-clean reclaimed water that can be used for industrial and cooling purposes at wafer fabrication plants.

Newater now accounts for 98% of the water Micron uses in Singapore, but the company also recycles 40% of the water in-house before it is discharged. Chen said the plan was to increase the proportion of water it recycles over time with new and better-designed fabs.

As for energy use, Micron plans to operate on 100% renewable energy, starting with its US operations by 2025. But in Singapore, which has limited renewable energy options due to its environmental conditions and small size, tapping renewable energy has been a challenge.

“The infrastructure and government agreements to bring in new clean energy are not there yet,” Chen said. “Having said that, the government has demonstrated its commitment to net zero by 2050, so we will get green energy eventually, and we look forward to that.”

Still, Micron Singapore is not sitting still while waiting for green energy to be more widely available. It is now in the midst of installing solar panels on the roofs of its fabrication plants, and when the work is completed by next year, the panels, including those installed on the rooftops of its above-ground car parks, will generate 24GWh of energy, which is equivalent to the energy consumption of 6,000 public housing flats in Singapore.

But the company had to be careful in installing solar panels on the rooftops of its multibillion-dollar facilities, which house equipment that could cost as much as $70m a piece. “Imagine if something went wrong, such as water leaks that can damage the equipment and affect production,” Chen said.

To avoid damaging the waterproofing membrane beneath the roof, the solar panels were not installed by boring holes into the roof. Instead, they were secured using ballast weights, and they also have a low-profile design that keeps them as close to the surface of the roof as possible so that they would not be easily lifted up by strong winds.

As for waste management, Micron’s global target is to have zero hazardous waste going to landfills, as well as to reuse, recycle and recover 95% of its waste by 2030. In Singapore, Chen said that figure currently stands at 85%, adding that the company will work with industry partners to find the right capacity and technology to support its waste recycling efforts.

The longer-term plan for Micron is to achieve net-zero emissions from its global operations (known as Scope 1) and purchased energy use (known as Scope 2) by 2050. Chen said, with the Singapore government having similar goals, he is confident that Micron Singapore will be able to hit its sustainability targets.

As for Scope 3 emissions, Chen said Micron Singapore is already working with local suppliers to reduce their carbon emissions. And while Scope 3 targets have not been set, he noted that sustainability awareness among Micron’s suppliers is high. “When we buy equipment, we also tell them that we hope to see design features that help to reduce energy use and avoid excessive carbon emissions,” he added.

Micron Singapore has also been supporting sustainability efforts in the broader community. For example, in 2021, it donated S$1m to support the smart water management system at the Jurong Lake Gardens’ water lily pond.

“It uses a natural way of treating and purifying water, but this project is not so much about using the water for our plants. We felt that this project was important to educate the community and inspire the next generation about the importance of sustainability,” Chen said.

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