Apple’s zero net emissions goal looks unlikely as TSMC 20 years behind schedule

Apple’s zero net emissions goal for its supply chain is now looking unlikely to be met, as A-series and M-series chipmaker TSMC has set a much less ambitious target for itself.

Apple achieved net zero emissions for its own operations back in 2018, and has promised to do the same for its entire supply chain by 2030. However, TSMC doesn’t appear to be on board for this …

The Guardian notes that TSMC recently set its own goal of 2050, not 2030.

The semiconductor industry has a problem. Demand is booming for silicon chips, which are embedded in everything from smartphones and televisions to wind turbines, but it comes at a big cost: a huge carbon footprint […]

Last week Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest chipmaker, which supplies chips to Apple, pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The company aims to “broaden our green influence and drive the industry towards low-carbon sustainability”, said the TSMC chairman, Mark Lui.

The environmental challenges of chipmaking are tough ones – indeed, it takes more energy to make a chip than it will consume in its entire lifetime of usage.

TSMC alone uses almost 5% of all Taiwan’s electricity, according to figures from Greenpeace, predicted to rise to 7.2% in 2022, and it used about 63m tons of water in 2019. The company’s water use became a controversial topic during Taiwan’s drought this year, the country’s worst in a half century, which pitted chipmakers against farmers […]

Chip manufacturing, rather than energy consumption or hardware use, “accounts for most of the carbon output” from electronics devices, the Harvard researcher Udit Gupta and co-authors wrote in a 2020 paper.

One significant source of energy consumption is keeping the air above atmospheric pressure inside chipmaking facilities, to keep dust out of them. Typically this pressure will be maintained for the entire building, rather than just its clean rooms.

However, TSMC is still seen as ahead of most of its competitors.

The company signed a 20-year deal last year with the Danish energy firm Ørsted, buying all the energy from a 920-megawatt offshore windfarm Ørsted is building in the Taiwan Strait.

The deal, which has been described as the world’s largest corporate renewables purchase agreement, has benefits for TSMC, said Shashi Barla, renewables analyst at the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. As well as guaranteeing a clean electricity supply, it pays a wholesale cost and removes itself from price shocks, “killing two birds with one stone”, he said.

TSMC’s actions have the potential to influence the rest of the industry, said Clifton Fonstad, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, “other manufacturers are likely to follow its lead”.

Ironically, the chip shortage may help: It has shown that industry is willing to pay higher prices for chips, which can help fund environmental initiatives.

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