Reducing Carbon Through Energy Conservation in Manufacturing: Strategies to Enable Capital Investment to Reduce Operational Energy Use

Semiconductor manufacturing is an energy-intensive industry, but over the last decade, Intel has completed more than 2,000 energy conservation projects for a total savings of 4.5 billion kilowatt-hours, or enough electricity to support more than 400,000 average American homes for one year (according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020). Today, reducing operational energy use is core to Intel’s overall climate strategy and 2030 goal to drive an additional 10% reduction in our absolute Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions from a 2020 baseline and to save an additional 4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy.

Institutionalizing Energy Conservation

Key to the success of any energy conservation program is support from senior management. In Intel a global network of dedicated energy managers, champions, and subject matter experts partner with local operations teams to identify, design, and implement innovative energy conservation projects. These experts share cross-site learnings and offer technical expertise to guide project managers and system-level engineers through the process of scoping, resourcing, funding, and delivering these energy efficiency and conservation projects. Financial investment is required to drive energy conservation at scale.

Strategic Investment Areas

Although energy conservation opportunities are present across the spectrum of Intel’s manufacturing operations, we have identified strategic investment areas to enable identification of best solutions, shared learning, and increase speed of implementation: 

Efficient lighting: Upgrading lighting can be a good way to demonstrate early success for an energy conservation program, especially longer lifetime warranty for LED lighting products and solutions. In Intel cleanrooms, custom lighting fixtures are required for integration into the ceiling grids. We implemented an LED solution that delivers operational energy savings of 80% to 95% compared to the previous lighting system. The cleanroom LED solution replaced every four fluorescent fixtures with two LED fixtures with integrated control, occupancy and light level sensors, and increased light output.  

Chilled Water Cooling: Given the heat removal required in semiconductor manufacturing facilities, chilled water systems are significant energy users, accounting for up to 20% of total electricity use. Chiller technology has evolved significantly with the use of low global warming – potential refrigerants, magnetic bearings, medium voltage frequency drives, and improved control modes of operation. Intel conducted a detailed assessment of all our chilled water systems to understand their configurations, modes of operation, overall system health, and opportunities for improvement. Intel identified an opportunity for an average of 20% energy performance improvement. Based on these findings, we initiated an effort to begin converting existing chilled water systems to new full variable primary flow systems. These conversions also present an opportunity to integrate Internet of Things-based controls with online remote system experts to provide operator support and optimize energy savings.

Compressed air: Semiconductor manufacturing has always required the use of clean, dry air. The production of this air requires dryer systems and compressors, both of which use energy. 
Typically, over 80% of energy used to generate compressed air is lost as heat. As such, implementation of a centralized heat recovery system allows productive use of that heat. The impact of allowing the compressors to run slightly warmer to use the available heat requires additional cooling of the air. While there is energy required to cool this air, it has an additional benefit of allowing removal of moisture with a water separator before the drying process, reducing its energy intensity. These measures, including variable frequency compressors, have allowed Intel to improve energy performance by up to 20%.  

Heat Recovery/Electrification: For manufacturing facilities where heating is required, the available heat from equipment lends itself to a holistic factory approach to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Intel commenced the journey of heat recovery first with chiller condenser water providing heat for incoming city water while reducing cooling tower load. In the late 1990’s, we began using chillers to provide heating, and what followed was a move to standardize specifications, dedicating heat recovery chiller/heat pumps for cleanroom makeup air low temperature heating. This shift reduced boiler fossil fuel heating by over 30%. New developments in higher temperature heat pumps allow for the increased possibility of boiler replacement. In addition, the electrification of heat provides for a more immediate route to using renewable energy where biogas is not available.

Technology as an Enabler

Technology can enable understanding of where and how energy is used to improve energy management, and verify impact of energy conservation actions. Intel-based Internet of Things-enabled sensors, devices, and data analytics give intelligence to equipment and deliver operational insights to lower maintenance costs, enable new lines of business, and improve overall productivity. 

Encouraging Industry Action

Acting alone, Intel cannot achieve the broad, societal impact we aspire to. Our 2030 corporate responsibility strategy and goals reflect even greater ambition for ourselves, as well as a growing sense of urgency to work with others to address challenges no one can tackle alone. We are committed to applying our deep experience as a leader in global manufacturing and leveraging our unique position within the technology ecosystem to help our customers achieve their own sustainability goals and accelerate progress in key areas across the entire technology industry.

Linda Qian
Communications Manager, Intel Corporation
Kevin Geoghegan
Sustainability Manager, Intel Corporation