Memory Goes Green

Article By : Gary Hilson

Samsung Electronics, Micron Technology, and others make steps toward sustainable, low-carbon memory.

TORONTO — The impact of components of digital devices such as smartphones is often lost amongst all the discussion of how to mitigate climate change, but memory makers have their own initiatives for contributing to environmental sustainability.

Samsung Electronics’ recently announced 512-gigabyte (GB) embedded Universal Flash Storage (eUFS) 3.0 was awarded Carbon Footprint and Water Footprint Certifications from the UK-based Carbon Trust, a globally accredited nonprofit certification body established by the British government to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. The certifications are the result of Carbon Trust’s thorough assessment of the environmental impact of carbon emissions and water usage before and throughout the production cycle of Samsung’s technology, based on international standards — specifically PAS 2050 for carbon footprint and ISO 14046 for water footprint.

In simpler terms, it means the carbon footprint of Samsung 512 GB eUFS 3.0 is 13.4 kg CO2, which is comparable to the amount that is absorbed by two 30-year-old pine trees in a year, while its water footprint is 0.31 m3 H2O. The reduced footprint can be attributed to Samsung’s etching technology for its fifth-generation V-NAND that pierces more than 90 cell layers in a single step. This allows the chip to have nearly 1.5 times more stacked layers than the previous generation and to accommodate a 25-percent reduction in chip size, minimizing the overall increase in carbon and water footprints for each V-NAND cell layer.

Dr. Hosong Hwang, head of Samsung Electronics’ environment team, said it was important for this specific memory to get public recognition for the company’s environment efforts as it’s being adopted in many of the latest flagship smartphones. “We are working on several different process technologies that can lead to more sustainable production of our next-generation V-NAND,” he said. “We plan to expand the adoption of such environment-friendly technologies to a broader range of memory lineups and ultimately deliver more products that end users can recognize are safer for the environment.”

Memory makers have their own initiatives for contributing to environmental sustainability including certifications from government and nonprofit organizations.

Hwang said Samsung tested various gases used in manufacturing processes to identify those that had high global warming potential and then made a concerted effort to apply substitutions that enabled more sustainable production right from the development stage of its fifth generation V-NAND. “We also evaluated the environmental impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the entire production cycle and incorporated new materials even in highly sensitive processes, like etching, to reduce overall GHG emissions.” He said these recent certifications are testament to the company’s diligence in this area, and it is continuing to develop manufacturing technologies that are compliant with the Carbon Trust for key memory products.

Established in 2001, the Carbon Trust has been working with Samsung since 2012, certifying many of its mobile and tablet products — most recently the Galaxy Note10. For commercial reasons, the organization won’t disclose which other memory and semiconductor companies have sought to get similar recognition, said associate director Morgan Jones, but there’s a lot of value for companies in the industry to do so. “Measuring and analyzing the resource footprint of products and services provides a wealth of data and key information that can be used to identify cost reduction and product development opportunities.”

Part of providing assurance and certification for the footprint for products, organizations, supply chains, and footprinting models includes enabling organizations to credibly verify year-on-year reductions in their environmental impact through adhering to the Carbon Trust standards for carbon, water, waste, and supply chain emissions, he said. “Standard bearers are provided analysis and suggested measures for continued reductions.”

In addition to the Carbon Trust recognition, Samsung has been awarded Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) labels for its 1-TB eUFS 2.1 and its fifth-generation 512-GB V-NAND by the Korean Ministry of Environment. Hwang said the evaluation and certification processes may differ, but both institutions assess environmental footprints, such as carbon and water, throughout the product’s entire lifecycle based on quantitative measures. “We are planning to actively seek designations from other reputable certification bodies to further expand our efforts in enhancing environmental sustainability.”

Samsung is not the only memory maker that’s actively looking to reduce its environmental footprint. As noted in its Climate Change 2018 report, Micron Technology is actively looking to reduce the burden on air, water, and land resources “through pollution prevention, reclamation, and recycling efforts.” In 2015, the company formed its first sustainability council compromising a team of senior leaders responsible for developing all aspects of sustainability strategy for the company.

Climate-related risks are looked at — along with other business risks and opportunities — and identified and prioritized by considering a number of factors including business continuity; impact to brand and reputation; relevance to regional operations; alignment with business strategy; impact to communities; and, compliance considerations, according to the annual report. “Micron routinely monitors greenhouse gas and energy efficiency regulations and policy to understand and evaluate impacts to, and opportunities for, our business, customers, and the communities where we operate.”

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