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3M Cuts Output of PFAS Used in Chip Production

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3M has suspended production in Belgium of the polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) used in the chipmaking process, which is considered hazardous to human health.

PFAS chemical composition (Source: 3M)

The materials supplier halted production of PFAS at a plant near the Belgian village of Zwijndrecht on Mar. 8. The company notified clients including Samsung, SK Hynix, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., and Intel, according to Business Korea.

3M aims to restart PFAS–related manufacturing and continues to make non–PFAS related products at Zwijndrecht, a company spokesman said in an email to EE Times.

The plant accounts for 80 percent of the world’s semiconductor coolant output, according to Business Korea. 3M didn’t provide details on the size or scope of the Zwijndrecht facility.

The timeline to resolve the situation is uncertain and, in several aspects, not under 3M’s control, the spokesman said. 3M has communicated with its customers about the potential for disruption, he said.

3M said it is working to resolve challenges and minimize impacts to customers as quickly as possible. This includes cooperating with authorities to implement measures to resume operations in compliance with new permit requirements and leveraging alternative sites where possible.

“We continue to advance and operate non–PFAS related manufacturing there, while working to get more PFAS-enabled manufacturing processes up and running in compliance with local safety measures,” 3M CEO Mike Roman said in a press release published on Mar. 30.

“We have also put in place new controls in Zwijndrecht, including technology to control air emissions, and capture, dispose, and treat PFAS in water. These investments, along with appropriate collaboration with the relevant authorities, help us bring idled processes back online enabling European production of essential products for our customers around the world.”

The material shortage is the latest in a series of supply chain issues impacting the global chip industry. Semiconductor shortages emerged more than two years ago, forcing automakers to idle production lines and sustain billions of dollars in losses.

In December 2021, a Covid lockdown impacted memory-chip production in the Chinese city of Xi’an. China has, at times, shut down entire cities and provinces as part of a zero–tolerance approach to Covid containment.

The supply chain is also under increased stress following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The region supplies noble gases and other critical minerals.

Count Down

In 2021, research by epidemiologists Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino at the Icahn School of Medicine linked hormone–disrupting chemicals, including PFAS, with rapid declines in human fertility. Their research was published in their book, Count Down.

On Mar. 30, 3M announced an investment of 150 million Euros ($164.4 million) to implement remedial actions for the Zwijndrecht community and address manufacturing and disposal of PFAS.

The company said it has engineered and activated a wastewater treatment system that has helped significantly reduce PFAS discharges from its site in Zwijndrecht; all while continuing to work with relevant authorities to resolve wastewater discharge issues that impact the facility’s operations.

3M Zwijndrecht facility (Source: Shutterstock) (Click image to enlarge)

The company has committed to addressing issues with existing PFAS previously produced at its Zwijndrecht facility. 3M said an accredited third-party soil remediation expert has recently completed significant work on a descriptive soil investigation to help inform 3M’s remedial actions onsite and in the surrounding area.

3M said it has made significant progress in similar work at other locations globally, including sites in the U.S. and Germany. The plant in Zwijndrecht is one of five PFAS manufacturing sites 3M has in the U.S. and Germany.

“As a leading provider of specialty fluids, including heat transfer fluids used in semiconductor applications, we take these matters seriously,” the company spokesman said. The coolant is essential for semiconductor etching, according to Business Korea.

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