The CHIPS Act hits milestones

By Sophie Bullimore | Published: 19-Apr-2024

The CHIPS Act has changed the landscape of American chip production, easing a chip shortage with $280bn of investment. But what now?

The US is the most dominant cleanroom market in the world. With a huge amount of pharmaceutical and research environments that hit a high level of contamination control.

But since the pandemic, many in authority have been setting their sights on semiconductor or “chip” production.

The idea is to increase domestic manufacturing, whilst simultaneously reducing reliance on the the production hubs of the world, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

So, in August 2022, The CHIPS and Science Act was signed into law. The act authorised roughly $280 billion in new funding to boost domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors in the United States.

TSMC announced its first project new project in Arizona in 2020, getting a boost from the CHIPS Act in 2022 for its two new fabs, but since has seen its fair share of bad press.

UIS will deliver MEP and Cleanroom Construction services

The company stated a skilled labour shortage as the reason for delays, but workers cited disorganisation and safety concerns.

So it was welcome news in February that TSMC had “topped out” at the second of its two fabs. This signifies the last steel beam being raised and put in place.

The Taiwan-based semiconductor expert thanked construction partners, a mix of local and international companies including Austin Commercial, Baker Concrete Constructors, BUESING CORP, Rolling Plains Construction, and W&W|AFCO Steel.

All contractors at the site operate under the management of two companies affiliated with TSMC, United Integrated Services (UIS) and Marketech International Corp. Specifically, UIS will deliver MEP and Cleanroom Construction services for the project.

“TSMC and UIS have cooperated together for more than three decades. Our relationship is like a family that has been shaped by our trust and respect for each other. We’re honoured to be part of this historic project for the United States to deliver UIS’ MEP and Cleanroom Construction services,” said Belle Lee, Chairman of United Integrated Services.

Most semiconductor cleanrooms are classed between ISO Class 4-6

Most semiconductor cleanrooms are classed between ISO Class 4-6, with an emphasis on particle count for the sake of the final product’s quality to prevent defects.

“It is estimated that for every one square foot of wafer production cleanroom space, there is an infrastructure of roughly 50 square feet of cleanroom space needed to build or support it,” said Davis Verheyen from Instant Cleanroom Solutions.

It is then no surprise that companies need huge amounts of space to be able to efficiently mass produce these products. TSMC’s Arizona endeavour, this shows the impressive scale of these complexes.

TSMC is far from the only company taking advantage of the new act.

Since the act was signed into law, projects have been initiated by Wolfspeed, Micron Technology, Texas Instruments, Bosch, and Mersen.

With this “emergency state” gone for now, the US can now focus on balancing production capacity with sustainability

The projects are based all over the country, with projects in Kansas, California, Michigan, Utah, and even New York.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), an organisation that is the voice of America’s semiconductor industry, claims in a report that the CHIPS Act has led to more than 50 projects worth more than $200bn.

“The CHIPS Act is working, and SIA stands ready to continue to work with government leaders to ensure the law’s landmark manufacturing and research provisions deliver maximum benefits to US chip production, innovation, and supply chain resilience for many years to come,” the company stated.

 Balancing capacity with sustainability 

The investments in the semiconductor industry in the US don’t stop at manufacturing.

In fact, at the beginning of February 2024, the US government announced over $5 billion in expected investment in the CHIPS R&D programme, including for the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC), as well as funding to increase workforce initiatives.

The immediate chip shortage, which has been ongoing since 2022, has eased to a certain degree. With this “emergency state” gone for now, the US can now focus on balancing increasing the production capacity of these products with the sustainability of these industries.

Korea-based SK hynix has established a roadmap to actively utilise recycled and renewable materials in the production of its semiconductor products.

The press specifically stated however, that these materials would not be available in the US. “These materials are not an offer for sale of the securities of SK hynix in the United States.

SK hynix does not intend to register any offering in the US or to conduct a public offering of securities in the US.” 

So what is the US doing on its side to improve its environmental impact?

The investments in the semiconductor industry in the US don’t stop at manufacturing

Most semiconductor manufacturing companies are looking to make their processes as optimised and efficient as possible, reducing energy and water bills.

TSMC uses 6% of the country’s energy and 10% of its water, to put in perspective the resource demand from these facilities.

Cleanrooms have huge energy demands, of which the cleanrooms sector is very aware and is making strides in reducing this impact.

This combined with ever-improving equipment and recycling technology should make a big difference. When it comes to products which are essential to everyday life, it is difficult to work in absolutes, and often mitigation is more effective at making a real impact.

To make the difference that needs to be made, it will take huge industry cooperation and investment. $200bn is a start.

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