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The Environmental Cost of Silicon Chips

CowboyNeal posted more than 11 years ago | from the take-only-tantalum-leave-only-footprints dept.

Technology 201

Col. Panic writes "Scientific American is running a small story about the amount of material required to produce silicon chips and the potential hazards of associated toxic chemicals." This combined with coltan mining processes sure paints a dark picture of the chip industry.

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First Post!! (-1, Offtopic)

1s44c (552956) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615967)


First Post!!!

First Post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4615972)

Yep. Moderate me, baby! I can feel the burn.

YOU FAIL IT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616186)

The only moderation you'll be getting is -1, FAILURE! The burn you're getting is the burn from knowing you FAILED!

How much energy does it take then... (1, Funny)

delphi125 (544730) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615973)

manufacturing microchips requires approximately 160 times the amount of energy needed to make typical silicon

...to make sand?

Re:How much energy does it take then... (0, Funny)

e8johan (605347) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616005)

No, breasts! :)

I refuse to use them. (4, Funny)

acehole (174372) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615974)

In line with protecting the environment, I choose to use environmentally friendly products in my cpu, such as compost and renewable timber.

Of course my computer doesnt work, but at least i'm helping the environment.

Re:I refuse to use them. (2)

cduffy (652) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616108)

In line with protecting the environment, I choose to use environmentally friendly products in my cpu, such as compost and renewable timber.

Nifty! I don't suppose you've been trying to build Babbage's Analytical Engine [fourmilab.ch] , would you? The concept of building one out of wood sounds interesting... is compost the power source? (I'd suppose you'd still need a combustion chamber... of what are you constructing that?)

Anyhow, good luck in getting it running! (I wonder how many years per frame you'd get playing Quake?)

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4615977)

fp

YOU FAIL IT! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616174)

Does 'fp' stand for FAILURE post? Because that is what you are, a FAILURE. Congratulations MR FAIL!

That's it! (4, Funny)

empee (219598) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615978)

I'm NEVER buying a CPU from DeBeers' ever again.

Re:That's it! (0)

peterf (142078) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616327)

I misread that as "I'm NEVER buying a beer from DeBeers' ever again".

Maybe I should stop drinking?

save some for the fishies!!! (4, Funny)

TOGA! TOGA TOGA! (606472) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615986)

a typical two-gram chip takes 1.6 kilograms of fossil fuel, 72 grams of chemicals and 32 kilograms of water Does anyone know if this 'water' is resuable? Is it just for cooling?

Re:save some for the fishies!!! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4615998)

The water is used in coffee, Coke and other caffeinated drinks by the nerds who design the chips.

Re:save some for the fishies!!! (3, Interesting)

max cohen (163682) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616170)

The water is used for rinsing wafers, which happens many, many times in a typical chip process. The water is highly filtered and deionized before the wafers are washed, then is cleansed to remove the acids and solvents that are picked up during rinse cycles. So it is reusable, but only after minerals are added back to it. You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.

Re:save some for the fishies!!! (3, Insightful)

Urban Garlic (447282) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616466)

> You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.

This has made my BS detector twitch. As soon as the pure water hits my mouth, it becomes impure because it mixes with my spit, so there's really no such thing as "drinking ultra-pure water." Water with the same concentration of saline as your body is actually much more dangerous than fresh water, and fresh water supplies all over the world have widely varying concentrations of minerals, yet people survive on them.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I invoke common sense to assert that as long as the mineral concentration of fresh water is reasonably low, the precise value is not important, and furthermore that the value of zero is not special.

Re:save some for the fishies!!! (4, Informative)

denzo (113290) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616749)

> You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.
This has made my BS detector twitch. As soon as the pure water hits my mouth, it becomes impure because it mixes with my spit, so there's really no such thing as "drinking ultra-pure water."
Yep, it's a myth that pure water leaches minerals from your body. Once it comes into contact with impurities (such as spit, like you mentioned), the water is no longer "pure". So how can pure water stay pure and do damage to our body? Even so, it will only remove minerals that are body has not used, not what has already been absorbed by our cells, which our body didn't need anyway. And our minerals aren't absorbed from water anyway, they're absorbed from food.

The only other way pure water can kill you is in a massive quantity, which would kill you even if it was normal drinking water.

Re:save some for the fishies!!! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616655)

You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.

Except, of course, that osmosis works exactly the other way. The solvent (water) migrates accross the membrane (skin, stomach lining, etc) in order to equalize the solute concentration on both sides. In this case, that means the ultra-pure water would be leached into your body slightly faster than tap water would be, and no harm done.

1.6 grams of fossil fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616274)

It seems I read somewhere that the average car now comes equipped with over 2000 microprocessors.

So now your environmentally unfriendly SUV will have bad Miles per Gallon and Mips per Gallon ratings.

Maybe we should just !#!#ZAP#!#! [hsvt.org] them all.

So what's the problem? (1)

RallyNick (577728) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616460)

I'm not quite sure what the problem is. I'd think the tipical finished chip is much lighter than 2 grams so maybe they refer to a whole wafer (which can yield many circuits)? Either way, I'd burn that much fuel just driving to the mall to buy the thing. Chemicals, as long as they are neutralized properly shouldn't be a problem. And water, filter it well and reuse it in a closed cycle.

Oh no! (2)

autopr0n (534291) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616739)

And not only that, their waisting our precious "chemicals"!

ROTF (1, Funny)

dolo666 (195584) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615993)

Forget the silicon chips! What about the silicon left over from dead strippers?!

At least get the words right.. ok? (2, Redundant)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616038)

Umm that's Silicone..

One of my pet peeves, when people mis-pronounce it, saying silicone when they mean silicon..

Re:ROTF (2)

McFly69 (603543) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616173)

As our society ages, silicon implants will become safer for installations and thus will become more popular among woman and men (yes some men want to have the perfect chest). This leads me to think. Five-hundred years from now, when archeologists pull out the bodies of our children's children (~100 years from now), there would fidn several things. They would be the skeleton, a phone/PDA and two dried up sacks of silicon.

That is your food for thought. Those archeologists will do research how silicon was used in our lives and how it affected us.

A clean room (3, Informative)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 11 years ago | (#4615997)

I can't seem to find the link, but recently Wired published an article in their dead-tree magazine about replacements for many of the hazardous chemicals used in chip production. There are new ideas which will make most of the run-off biodegradable, and some companies are looking into building new factories to support these new techs in the long term. But there won't be any environmentally safe process anytime in the near future.

Re:A clean room (5, Funny)

mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616093)

But there won't be any environmentally safe process anytime in the near future.

That's not hardly fair. We have a newly structured govt. in the US that is pushing hard for greener processes. They will cut taxes for big industry, relax emission standards etc...all so our children can have a greener environment to grow up in. Of course green is the color of more than grass.

The Green Party (2)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616225)

The Republicans and Democrats should merge and rename themselves the Green Party. They have far more green than the current Green Party. Then the current Green Party could change to maybe the People's Party... oh, that sounds communist. Well, Nader would come up with something.

Yeah, it's flamebait, but I'm so fed up with the system...

Re:A clean room (4, Informative)

max cohen (163682) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616198)

The replacement they were referring to in that article is super critical carbon dioxide. It is a viable solution to the environmental problem for chip production and already used for "greener" dry cleaning, but definately won't be ramping up in fabs anytime soon. Chip manufacturers are very slow and recluctant to change processes.

And what are we supposed to do? (2, Troll)

hbmartin (579860) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616001)

Great, another in depth study to tell us how we're so enviromentally wrong. It says that "The team found that the materials involved in making a 32-MB RAM microchip total 630 times the mass of the final product." I bet everybody would quickly switch to 8MB ram if it only took 200 times the mass. You gotta love this academic+eviroment mix.

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (4, Insightful)

mumblestheclown (569987) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616025)

dittos, rush

or, more likely--this is a reminder to all that are working on this sort of stuff to consider the environmental consequences of their actions.

basically, you could write the same case about the auto industry 30 years ago. then, people started becoming interested in environmental issues, and attitudes within the industry changed. While we're not at ideal yet, we're at least at where even SUV owners have embedded in their minds somewhere that such gas guzzling is not the best idea.

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616110)

we're at least at where even SUV owners have embedded in their minds somewhere that such gas guzzling is not the best idea.

Judging by the whining of most Americans when the price of their fuel goes up about $0.0001/gallon, I wouldn't go that far.

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (5, Insightful)

phuturephunk (617641) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616066)

. . Its just like any other period of mass adoption of technology in Human history . . I mean, look at the way England and the United states manufactured materials before the beginning of last century . . Smokestacks belching unfiltered by product into the skies and run-off pipes dumping raw sewage into the rivers and seas . . There's a honeymoon period where everybody's eating up the tech and the whole issue of 'cost' other than the bottom line for materials really isn't taken into account . . Only sometime after the initial binge do people finally standup with that hangover and see the potential damage that the consumption really causes . .Now Environmentalists will kvetch about it for a while and we'll go through the cycle of upgrading the process so its greener . . .Its the beauty of innovation :) . . And plus, its pure entertainment to watch both sides hurl statistics at each other with such vicious aplomb . . ;) . . .

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (3, Insightful)

tjensor (571163) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616103)

The only thing that you can do - tax those who do not clean up their act.
A large company will allways try and producs cheaply . If it becomes too expensive to produce chips using "Dirty" methods you an just bet they will find "Clean" methods to reduce their margins.

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616118)

His "point" - such as it is - is that he just want to be able to get cheap stuff now, and not listen to whiny leftist complaints about how it's not sustainable, as the mess we are leaving to our descendants is not his problem. Of course it's a retarded mind-set, but disturbingly common.

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (2, Insightful)

phuturephunk (617641) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616142)

. . Taxation would work in a perfect world, so would fining people for infractions, but we've all heard of firms just biting the bullet and actually budgeting for fines in order to dump waste. . .Also, in the case of taxes, I , at least, am so jaded with polititians that I don't believe their gonna use the revenue in any useful way (**cough** tobacco anyone?). There's got to be some kind of more creative and effective solutions to CONVINCE companies to clean it up . . . Taxation aint it . . I was thinking, since everything in business nowadays is the perception of reality instead of actual reality (e.g. the Stock Market) that maybe, since we're in the business of inventing numbers, we should invent a company 'karma' index or something like that . . . Maybe its been done already . .I dunno . .

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (4, Insightful)

kevlar (13509) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616147)

The problem with reports like this is that you never know precisely what the unbias facts are. In a world where the majority of conservationist organizations are run by zealots who practically hate civilization altogether, you never know who you can trust.... and it only hurts their cause. In this case, nobody is going to stop using computers or even pay attention to this article.

Re:And what are we supposed to do? (2)

McFly69 (603543) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616190)

The team found that the materials involved in making a 32-MB RAM microchip total 630 times the mass of the final product

Wait a second, it it took that long just to make the 32 meg chip, why not just make them larger? Larger chips are almost identical is size. Would this not be safer for the environment? Hence eleminate all small ram peices and just sell large ram chips. For example, they would only sell 1, 2, or even 5 gig ram upgrades. In theory the difference in cost would be minimal.

Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616014)

I advice you to destroy your share of the Earth before others do! Don't be a sucker!

Alternatives (3, Interesting)

e8johan (605347) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616015)

What are the alternatives. I understand that people compain about other people using cars that use excessive amounts of fuel, but there is no better way to make microchips yet, or is there?

Re:Alternatives (4, Interesting)

Mr_Dyqik (156524) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616100)

Don't upgrade. Don't play the very latest games with all the graphics turned up to full. Don't install the latest bloatware OS (I'm remaining very carefully vendor neutral here). Buy fewer products with microchips in them.

Re:Alternatives (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616242)

Buy fewer products with microchips in them.
Stop buying things with chips in them.

No more computers.
No more cellphones.
And no more 'modern' plain phones, back to electromechanical POTS.
No more TV, VCR, DVD player.
No more stereo.
No more alarm radios.
No more electronic wristwatches.
No more car electronics.
No more microwave ovens.
No more hearing aids and pacemakers.
(BTW, did you know the very first chip ever - meaning more than one transistor on a single chip of semiconductor material - was a hearing aid amplifier made by [Dutch] Philips, a couple of years before the "official" invention of the integrated circuit in the US?)

No more work for most of us.

Re:Alternatives (1)

mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616102)

but there is no better way to make microchips yet, or is there?

Fuel cells?

Re:Alternatives (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616127)

Aint nowt you can do w'a computer that ya can't do w'an abacus.

Re:Alternatives (2)

e8johan (605347) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616160)

Wow! You can place CS with an abacus! I gotta get one of these! Whats the battery time of one of those, are they portable, can I connect it to the internet wirelessly?!

Re:Alternatives (1)

tkg (455770) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616258)

SuperCritical CO2 [epa.gov] is one possiblity.

The chemicals (5, Interesting)

wiredog (43288) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616022)

I used to do programming for automated process lines used in the circuit board industry and quartz chip fabs (the chips used for timing purposes). One of the chemicals used is HF, since that's about the only thing that will etch silicon, which is really nasty. Also used are H2SO4, potassium permanganate, and other fun chemicals.

Important safety note: When working in such a place, always wash your hands up to the elbows before going to the bathroom, or rubbing your eyes. I've been told that sulfuric on the willy is an unforgettable experience...

Re:The chemicals (-1, Troll)

forged (206127) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616041)

sulfuric on the willy is an unforgettable experience...

Hmmmm, bon appetit ! ;)

Re:The chemicals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616059)

while there are indeed a large number of very nasty chemicals in use in chip processing, to my knowledge they are all meticulously collected and recycled (repurified).

Re:The chemicals (1)

phuturephunk (617641) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616163)

. . Thats what the City of New York said during the boom, now that theres a billion dollar budget gap, everything except tin is being slingshot to jersey for dumping (a mildly appealing thought) . . Now , what do you think companies are doing? . . hmm? . .

Re:The chemicals (1)

phuturephunk (617641) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616154)

. . I suddenly see a perfect plot for a comic book . . . intriguing . . .

Re:The chemicals (2, Informative)

jmcharry (608079) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616196)

Those are the least of it. I recall IBM, which was as careful as anyone, had problems with trichlor leaking into the ground water at their NY chip plant. HF is generally mixed with HNO3. The nitric oxidizes the Si into glass, which the HF eats. It is buffered with acetic acid. That stuff is seriously nasty.I don't recall any accidents with it, but there were a couple of legends. The processes also involve heavy metals.

Re:The chemicals (5, Insightful)

Zathrus (232140) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616648)

Important safety note: When working in such a place, always wash your hands up to the elbows before going to the bathroom, or rubbing your eyes. I've been told that sulfuric on the willy is an unforgettable experience...

Where on earth did you work with such shitty fab safety that you were likely to get any of those chemicals on you?

I've worked in fabs too, and wrote software to control PVD/CVD and etchers. When I started the job I went to about a week worth of fab safety classes where they scared the hell out of you from doing stupid things with chemicals. Probably my favorite line was "if you hear the gas alarm, leave the chemical storage room immediately. If you choose to linger, at least try to die within 6 feet of the door, because that's how long the hook is to drag your body out."

The chemicals being used in modern fabs are, indeed, incredibly, ungodly nasty. HF, arsenic, H2SO4, etc are the tip of the iceberg. We couldn't wear contacts in the fab because of a cleaning chemical in the floor with the trade name Pirhana. If something ever went wrong and the fans backblasted, Pirhana would melt plastic - and thus your contacts. To your eyes. So we got safety glasses. There were gasses in use that would kill you before they could be detected.

The point of all this is that safety procedures were taken very, very seriously. It didn't matter if it was deionized water or 80 molar HF - you didn't screw around with the chemicals. Having to "wash up to the elbows" wasn't necessary because there weren't going to be chemicals around that you could get on you. Not to mention that you were in a fab suit in the first place.

Damn, I'm glad I didn't work wherever you did. I value my health more than that.

Re:The chemicals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616725)

Sci American ran a story once on how the fab suits are designed to protect the chips from you and not you from the chips.

They also looked at some huge safety problems, mostly at IBM, and found out that lots of IBM fab employees are getting extremely sick.

IBM is one of the worst fab pollutants out there, and their employee practices are reprehensable. Lots of Fab Employees there get very sick, lots of safety violations are had, and its just a generally bad place to be.

Newsflash! (5, Funny)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616029)

Complex chemical compounds can be harmful to your health and to the environment! (Wow!)

And, in related news, Bill Gates is incredibly rich and Saddam Hussein may not be such a nice guy after all! (Amazing!)

More information in our next news program... Film at 11.

Re:Newsflash! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616078)

eat my bum

So what are environmentalists going to do now? (0, Troll)

Mantrid (250133) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616033)

Well I expect hear that Greenpeace and their ilk. are going to keep whatever hardware they have now indefinitely. If it breaks down, too bad! They'd better at least just replace it with recycled servers, PCs, and laptops. And they'd better run from a windtower or solar...which probably means they won't be using AMD servers hehe.

(Now if your an anti-globalization protester as well you're really screwed - most companies that can provide you with internet access are multi-nationals - or at least linked upstream to them. Somewhere along the way you'll be supporting them...)

And while they're at it, they'd better start walking every where they go as well. Nope can't use electric cars - well unless they have their own windtower. Whoops - did they check into the processes involved in making the batteries? How long do the batteries last? The plastics in the electric car? Ah crap there's silicon chips in them fancy electric cars too...

Guess it's back to the stone age for us! Oh wait no fire though please - that's burning trees and releasing green house gasses.

Re:So what are environmentalists going to do now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616128)

You have it all backwards....
I tis not about assigning blame and protesting, not all environmentalists do this. Serious environmentalists try to find new alternatives to the way we make things in our world today. You should read "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, it may show why we should care about this and think towards a redesign of today's products.
There ARE ways to manufacture the things we use today so they are Eco-effective (which doesn't mean less bad).
Don't generalize environmentalists.

Re:So what are environmentalists going to do now? (1)

Mantrid (250133) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616353)

I suppose I was generalizing a bit. But the main thrust is towards radicals that run around shouting 'stop doing X right now!', without offering real alternatives or considering the implications.

People looking towards clean, efficient ways of doing things seem to be rare - mostly because the media would rather show radicals I suppose. As a result this is the filter with which I view most environmental writings.

When something truly interesting, such as those compressed air powered cars (if they really are the marvels of efficiency and compression pumps are clean as well), I do take more notice and am much more optimistic about it.

I may just check out that book...

Benefit too great (4, Insightful)

Apreche (239272) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616040)

while there may be some environmental issues concerning chip manufacture. The benefit that the microprocessor has brought to human society far outweighs any environmental cost.

Re:Benefit too great (2, Funny)

tigress (48157) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616168)

The benefit that the microprocessor has brought to human society far outweighs any environmental cost.

What? Like, the digital watch?

Re:Benefit too great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616425)

hmmm...

it outweighs extinction?

(thats extinction... to the max!)

Thankfully, I use an AMD K6-2-350 (2, Funny)

Adam Rightmann (609216) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616050)

which is manufactured in sweatshops in third world countries, like the Phillipines, from scrap wire, metal and plastic, so at least American doesn't get polluted.

Re:Thankfully, I use an AMD K6-2-350 (1, Offtopic)

squarefish (561836) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616138)

Actually, I kinda liked Austin, TX

and... (1, Redundant)

RebelTycoon (584591) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616058)

Imagine how expensive computers would be without it.

The environmental impact is high because the countries that are either being mined or being dumped in (China) have low or non-existent environmental controls.

Don't blame the industry when countries don't stand up to corporations. In the case of Africa and the mining there, I think a little toughness on American and other foreign corporations would go a long way. But as long as those governments are corrupt and willing to take bribes over protecting their people, such is life.

In China, the government has taken steps to help solve the mess, but it will take time. For China, I'm suprised they aren't using prisoners to forage the components... But I guess that's because they need their organs to harvest, and lead contamination lowers their value on the black market.

Re:and... (5, Insightful)

tjensor (571163) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616125)

Yes but it doesnt have to be those countries that stand up to them. The consuming countries can do it just as effectively. The US and/or Europe alone could do it by simply saying "Show us an audited trail of how you produced these chips. For every gram of crud you produce thats an extra 10% sales tax".

The manufacturers need these markets. If the markets dont like the manufacturers methodds, they can force them to change.

as if a geek's taken a breath of fresh air lately (5, Funny)

colnago (91472) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616064)

a *real* geek doesn't get outside enough to care about the environment.


Okay, it's not very funny. Don't laugh.

Yes, it's true (-1, Troll)

PhysicsGenius (565228) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616070)

This should have been obvious to everyone. TAANSTAAFL. The Second Law includes information, as Shannon proved, which means that the Internet couldn't just spring into being. It had to come at a cost and that cost is now being paid by the environment. When the poor village dwellers that inhabit 90% of the world realize what we've done, they will probably destroy our precious pr0n storage system and revert all those resources and energy back to the Earth where they belong, causing a resurgence in flora and fauna. We'll probably see a reversal of the global cooling trend, too.

Re:Yes, it's true (0)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616145)

TAANSTAAFL.

I believe the traditional language spoken on Slashdot in English. I can just about put up with 5 letter acronyms, but what the FUCK are you talking about here?

Re:Yes, it's true (1)

slashbofh (622003) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616202)

What, too lazy to try Google [google.com] ?

I'm shocked.

Here [infinityplus.co.uk] is a result that is pretty good if you know the author of the phrase.

Re:Yes, it's true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616287)

TANSTAAFL is the correct spelling.

A Robert A. Heinlein invention: "There Are No Such Things As A Free Lunch."

Re:Yes, it's true (4, Informative)

shilly (142940) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616294)

He means "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" (TANSTAAFL). This acronym was introduced by Robert Heinlein, who is sometimes also cited as the originator of the phrase as well. It features in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and several of his other books as well. Robert Heinlein was one of the most popular science fiction authors of the 20th century, especially in the US. It's not such an obscure phrase, given Slashdot's audience.

Screw the environment. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616081)

Welcome to the new Republican era, Baby!

I make waste, too (4, Insightful)

MobileDude (530145) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616113)

Last time I checked, *everything* we do has some form of by-product that could be considered waste. Heck, I can turn a bowl of beans into a mean ol' cloud of gas.

What they fail to mention is the benefit of the chip manufactured. Cost/Benefit - sound familiar?

This article is just reason # 87 why I cancelled my SciAm subscription earlier this year after 15 years of subscribing. They've veered from true science and now feel the need 'preach' environment, evolution, abortion, etc. in the monthly Editor's Perspectives (and various articles).

Re:I make waste, too (5, Interesting)

gosand (234100) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616226)

This article is just reason # 87 why I cancelled my SciAm subscription earlier this year after 15 years of subscribing. They've veered from true science and now feel the need 'preach' environment, evolution, abortion, etc. in the monthly Editor's Perspectives (and various articles).

I have subscribed for about 6 years, and I noticed that there have been more environmental articles, but I don't consider them to be preachy. They give some good environmental data, and ususally don't go into too much politics about it. I know recently there was a story on how some impoverished countries get a lot of our scrap electronics, and how they salvage metals from them. They point out how toxic this is to the people and the water supplies there. I like finding out about this stuff, because nobody else is reporting on it. We use a LOT of microchips, as do other countries. We need to know that there are dangers in this. Granted, I haven't read this article yet (I am a couple of months behind on my issues) but I'll bet that they are simply pointing out the environmental hazards of chip production, and as chip use increases, the hazards increase. Why is this such a bad thing to know? The more chips we produce, hopefully the better our processes will become, and eventually we will come up with a replacement technology that will make silicon obsolete. Hopefully this new technology will be more friendly to the environment. I'm no Moby, calling the turkey hotline to save the widdle turkeys, but I think we do need to consider our environment.

Re:I make waste, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616245)

'Preach' evolution, abortion, and the environment? I can't say I've ever seen abortion mentioned in SciAm.

As for evolution and the environment, perhaps you've missed the name of the magazine: SCIENTIFIC. Evolution is a scientific fact. Deal with it, thumper. It is also painfully and unarguably obvious that a healthy environment is most beneficial to humans in every way: health, economics, quality of life, and so forth. There is also that nagging issue that the study of the environment is a SCIENTIFIC discipline, so it is natural for it to be addressed in SCIENTIFIC American.

Re:I make waste, too (1)

MobileDude (530145) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616321)

>>'Preach' evolution, abortion, and the
>>environment? I can't say I've ever seen
>>abortion mentioned in SciAm.

From December 2000:
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID= 000B959 1-ABDF-1C72-9EB7809EC588F2D7&pageNumber=1&catI D=2

Do a little research before you post next time.

In retrospect, *preach* was a bit strong for me to state. I still stand by my thought that SciAm has gone from hard science to 'soft' science.

Read the original chip article. Only states estimated costs - no mention of any benefit.

I can get my political spin from other sources
(The Nation, National Review, etc.) than SciAm.

Re: I make waste, too (1)

Damek (515688) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616747)

Read the original chip article. Only states estimated costs - no mention of any benefit.

It strikes me as only healthy to take time to examine the costs of our actions. It seems to me that people do not do this often enough.

It also strikes me that criticizing a study of the costs of computer chips for not taking time to point out the benefits of computer chips is like criticizing a study of the costs of cars for not pointing out the benefits of cars. Everyone knows the benefits of cars already; that's why we all use them. And car manufacturers do a good enough job of advertising their products. I would say the same goes for the info tech industry. Computer chips are already everywhere, in practically everything. It would be irrational *not* to wonder about possible downsides, and it seems a bit irrational to demand that everyone speaking up about the downsides should do a full cost-benefit analysis.

And besides, the benefits are going to vary widely across all the many possible uses. The environmental costs of a chip might not outweigh the benefits of using said chip to computer protein folding, but I'd think they might outweigh the benefits of using said chip to animate a child's toy...

I'm not saying they shouldn't do such an analysis or such a study. But of course, as with all things, science must go forth in steps - first you do the smaller study pointing out the problem with the sewer system, then people give you more money to help with solutions or to do the fuller analysis. At least that's my impression.

As for the fact that you "make waste, too", your personal byproducts are decidedly different from the byproducts of silicon manufacturing.

I would hope...

New Linux Add (2, Funny)

Martigan80 (305400) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616115)

Not only is it FREE, but it also prolongs the useful life of your CPU, unlike other OS's that require a system upgrade as well.

Re:New Linux Add (2, Insightful)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616157)

Actually, damn good point. The Wintel strategy of requiring an 'upgrade cycle' (new hardware) every few years instead of coding more efficiently probably doesn't do the environment any good, besides the consumers.

Re:New Linux Add (1)

Joe Enduser (527199) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616262)

Maybe for a really nice home server/firewall, but not for a desktop station surely!

This kind of propaganda only makes people dissappointed about Linux after they give it a try on their old Pentium 66.

The Enduser

Re:New Linux Add (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616339)

And a new ad for "the other OS": frequent use of our OS doesn't impair your spelling skills.

getting better! (5, Informative)

lopati (74873) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616122)

at least from the intel press release [intel.com] :D

The new manufacturing technology enabled by the 300-mm technology also provides significant benefits from an environmental perspective. The chips manufactured in Fab11X will require less water and generate fewer emissions per chip than other fabs. Water and chemical use will be more efficient. When compared to a 200-mm facility Fab 11X will produce 48 percent less volatile organic compound emissions, use 42 percent less ultra pure water and will use approximately 40 percent less energy.

How about solar cells? (3, Interesting)

Deton8 (522248) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616133)

One thing I've often wondered is whether a typical solar cell produces more energy in its lifetime than it takes to manufacture it?

Re:How about solar cells? (4, Informative)

chrysrobyn (106763) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616234)

One thing I've often wondered is whether a typical solar cell produces more energy in its lifetime than it takes to manufacture it?

I'm sorry I can't cite a reference, but it was either Home Power magazine [homepower.com] or the US Department of Engergy [doe.gov] that claimed solar cells pay for their energy (in terms of CO2 emissions) after 2-5 years of use, depending on location. 2 closer to the US Southwest, 5 closer to the Canadian border.

Yeah, but whatcha gonna do? (3, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616152)

Don't worry, our grandkids can clean it up. Luckily, they'll have plenty of oil wealth to help them do it.

No, wait...

</sarcasm> aside, this just goes to show that capitalism means cutting off your nose to pay for your facelift.

Oh, sorry, my <sarcasm> must have been nested, along with a <mixed metaphore>. But really, why is this a suprise to anyone? Our entire economy is based on the premise that the lowest bidder is always the best one. Without artificial (read: gubmint) controls (which we're not going to get under undisputed reign of George II), using the cheapest process without regard for the consequences is inevitable. It's actually the fiduciary duty of the execs in these industries to do this! If they were to switch to using a cleaner (but more expensive) process, they'd be sacked at best, and quite probably sued by their shareholders.

Oh, I absolutely agree. (5, Insightful)

Gruneun (261463) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616441)

Our entire economy is based on the premise that the lowest bidder is always the best one.

That explains why everyone here drives a Yugo, eats Big Top-brand cereal, and writes their posts from an eMachine.

1.6kg fossil fuel (3, Insightful)

jolshefsky (560014) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616185)

It's interesting that it takes just about the same 1.6kg of fossil fuel to drive 10 miles to a store and back to buy that chip. Curious.

Hence PV is not good for the environment (1)

wbtittle (456702) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616223)

The obvious extension of this study is that PV cells are also bad. If they weren't made out of the remains of the chip industry, they would truly be unenvironmental.

Cost benefit analysis (5, Insightful)

panurge (573432) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616260)

Every time I send a 5Mb file by internet, that is packaging and carriage that has been avoided.

Every time I use conferencing over the internet, I am saving (typically) about 30lb of Diesel (and it would have been nearer 45lb of gas in my last car)

I'm not arguing that we should ignore the environmental costs of technology - places like the former Communist block and Texas are unpleasantly polluted as a result of doing just that - but that we should look closely at the costs and benefits. Given the potential of global warming and the eventual runout of oil, the more we use silicon to reduce the number of boring journeys we have to do, whether by mobile phone, networked computer, or whatever, the better it is going to be for us.

And for those who don't already know - substances like sulfuric acid and HF are widely used in the petrochemical industry. And what happens to all the sulfur they have to remove to get low-sulfur fuel? It surely doesn't get fired into space by a rail gun.

Re:Cost benefit analysis (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616753)

Everytime you use the internet:

1. A baby seal is clubbed to death
2. A small child in Ethiopia starves
3. It is all your fault you big bad imperialist bastard!

Thank you.

Re:Cost benefit analysis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616781)

You're missing the point.

No one is saying that ALL microchips must be eliminated. Current manufacturing technologies are just very inefficient, and they could be greatly improved.

More environmentaly friendly manufacturing process won't stop you from downloading PDFs.

Something the article doesn't mention... (5, Interesting)

cowbutt (21077) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616320)

...is the net conservation of resources and energy by the use of semiconductors. For example, if by having a PC and internet connection at home, it becomes possible to work from home, I wouldn't be surprised if the breakeven point between that and driving to work was reached very quickly.

Coltan mining (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4616330)

So that's what the Firefly episode was based on.

taxes? (3, Insightful)

fluor2 (242824) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616480)

here in norway we allready have enviroment-taxes on things like tv's and pc's.

i only wonder if the taxes actually will help lower the pollution to the environment.

What about natural environmental damage? (1)

Bill_EEE (623572) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616686)

Should Italy's allotment of CO2 be used up by the natural explosion of Mt. Etna? Is CO2 really damaging or is the limitation of it a ploy by patent holders of fuel cell technology to sell their expensive product? Should a large person who uses more air and thus produces more CO2 be taxed higher? Just wondering. I care about the environment, however I don't believe that the regulators, who are typically very well-fed elites, understand the environment well enough to be telling me that I can't lite a fire to heat my house or run my old car because it is dirty. If I am poor and living in the hills of Vermont, I will run my old car and cut down trees to heat my house. I will kill a deer to eat. Is Norway is willing to pay repartions for the Vickings and their warmongering from a thousand years ago? Probably not. Nor do I think that they should. The past is gone. More taxes are not the answer. Taxes contribute to larger government that is often wasteful.

When I'm at my computer (1)

The Evil Couch (621105) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616523)

I hardly notice when I have to eat, sleep, drink or go to the bathroom. They expect me ot notice that my new chips destroyed a chunk of the planet? HA!

Energy useage to make chips (1)

Alcohol Fueled (603402) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616545)

...the manufacturing of a typical two-gram chip takes 1.6 kilograms of fossil fuel, 72 grams of chemicals and 32 kilograms of water.

Hmm.. what kind of fossil fuel? Coal, oil, what? Why haven't chip makers tried to find a renewable source of energy to make chips? Is it possible to do that, somehow? And as far as the water goes, we can reuse it!! Haven't these people ever heard of Brita or Pur!?

But their 'wafer thin'. . . (1)

Bill_EEE (623572) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616629)

Clean rooms are NOT clean for the people, but for the chip. Should we be making these things in outer space? maybe in 100 years.

It's an add-subtract thing! (2, Interesting)

KarmaPolice (212543) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616711)

With enviroment it's always easy to look at the expenses but what about the benefits of microprocessors on the enviroment?

Think of waste-plants being monitored by computers so the waste is constantly being processed ideally.

But it's an interesting set of numbers, though.

Earthquakes at the Fabs (1)

Bill_EEE (623572) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616767)

I went to a conference when I worked for the semiconductor industry. I asked the salesman for the equipment manufacturer that was selling his stuff why so many fabs are built on fault lines with high amounts of earthquakes. I had my own idea: the companies are hoping for an earthquake because then they get big insurance money. Semiconductor equipment goes out of date very quickly and a large insurance check is a kiss for the semicondutor manufacturers. Then I asked the fellow about the safety of the equipment during an earthquake. I wondered about all of the poison gas that is being piped through the fab, and are their procedures and safeguards in place for the (inevitable) time that an earthquake hits the fab in these danger zones. The saleman told me that at the time of the earthquake no one worrys about the gasses. They worry about the roof falling on their heads. And, no, there aren't any safeguards for the poison gases. This was five years ago. I doubt that they worry now.

Huh? (3, Insightful)

autopr0n (534291) | more than 11 years ago | (#4616771)

If you read the NYT article it makes it sound more like those Africans would be sitting around starving or something if it wasn't for the coltan mining jobs. I mean god forbid someone should do manual labor in the outdoors... it's just horrid!

I'm not saying that people should be digging in animal preserves, but that is 'illegal' over there.

If you read the article, the author seems to think that self-righteous bans on material from certain countries, as well as the tech slump are causing more harm to people then the mining system.
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