Sand may be one of the world’s most abundant natural resources, but a shortage of it is threatening two fast-growing industries — computer chipmakers and solar panel manufacturers. To solve the problem, they’ve found a way to turn one company’s trash into another’s treasure.
Big chip companies like Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor, Intel and others have started sharing their scrap silicon (the material that’s left over after microprocessors are made) with solar-panel makers, and they’re reaping millions in revenue from the new-found venture.
“This year, we expect to receive somewhere between $5 million and $10 million on sales of our scrap wafers,” said Mike Hayden of Texas Instruments.
As businesses are going green, the solar-panel industry is booming at a faster-then-ever speed. Industry insiders say the global market for solar panels has grown by 40 percent each year for the past six years, and that growing demand has pushed silicon prices skyward.
“We saw a 200 percent climb in pricing last year for all grades of silicon, from ‘poly’ right through to scrap wafers,” said Jeff Harte of Global Expertise, a San Jose, Calif., -based silicon recycling company.
Experts estimate the silicon recycling business could generate $750 million in revenue, and almost all of that goes to profit because before the recycling business came about big chipmakers had to pay truckers $100 a drum to haul their scrap away to landfills.
Now there’s a new way for chipmakers to squeeze more pennies from every grain of sand, and a new to make some green by going green.