Tuesday, June 13, 2023

EUV Lithography Embraces Sustainability with Hydrogen Recycling System

Edwards Vacuum and Imec Develop Reverse Fuel Cell to Recycle Contaminated Hydrogen in Chip Manufacturing

The semiconductor industry relies heavily on extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography systems to increase transistor density. These systems use large amounts of hydrogen to sweep away contaminants and maintain the cleanliness of their optics. Currently, the contaminated hydrogen is burned to form water, requiring a constant supply of new hydrogen. However, this process contributes to carbon emissions as most hydrogen is produced from natural gas using steam processing.
“It’s similar to a fuel cell, in reverse.”—Anthony Keen, Edwards Vacuum
To address this issue, engineers at Edwards, a vacuum systems firm based in England, have developed a hydrogen recovery system that can recycle up to 80 percent of the gas. The system functions similarly to a fuel cell but in reverse. The contaminated hydrogen is mixed with moisture and nitrogen, ionized, and then forced through a proton-exchange membrane using an electric field. On the other side of the membrane, the protons recombine with electrons to form pure hydrogen, while contaminants and water remain on the other side and can be disposed of properly. The recovered hydrogen can then be sent back to the EUV lithography system.

Edwards collaborated with Imec, a research and innovation hub for nanoelectronics and digital technologies, to test the recovery system. The tests conducted on Imec's silicon pilot line demonstrated that the system recovered 70 to 80 percent of the hydrogen and resulted in a net reduction in energy consumption.

The implementation of this hydrogen recovery system in the semiconductor industry could help lower the environmental footprint of EUV lithography systems and contribute to reducing the carbon emissions associated with chip manufacturing. The semiconductor industry has been striving to reduce its carbon footprint, with estimates suggesting it could account for 3 percent of global emissions by 2040. Edwards will need to make a case to top chipmakers, such as Intel, Samsung, and TSMC, to adopt this green technology and further promote sustainability in chip production.


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