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Chips cost environment dear

Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 08:38 GMT

The chip places a great burden on the environment.

Next time you buy a new computer, you should consider the cost to the environment of the faster and more powerful chip in the box, say researchers. A study by a team at the United Nations University in Tokyo has found that,weight for weight, the average computer chip does more harm to the environment than the car.

The manufacture of the tiny, wafer-thin slivers of silicon leaves behind a mountain of waste.

"In order to produce one memory chip that weighs two grams, the total amount of materials and fossil fuels required to make that chip is 1,400 grams. That's 700 times the weight of the original chip," said Dr Eric

Computer lifespan: The researchers looked at all the chemicals, including fossil fuels such as coal, involved in turning raw quartz into a 32MB RAM microchip.

Cost of a 2g chip:

1.6kg of fossil fuel
72g of chemicals
32kg of water

They found that far more materials, such as fuels and solvents, are needed for their manufacture of a chip compared to other electronic products. This is because of the tiny size of the chip and need to keep it free of dirt and dust.

Dr Williams' team was surprised by the results of their study, particularly when it was compared to the amount of material consumed in the manufacture of a typical car.

"The ratio of 700 for the microchip compared to a ratio of two for the car was much larger than we were expecting," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

Cutting costs:

"It is important to learn that the microchip is not environmentally free because that has an effect on how people choose to use the equipment," he said.

"In the industrialised world, the lifetime of personal computers is very short, typically two to three years, so the fact that one buys a new computer so quickly substantially increases the environmental impact of
owning the device."

The computer market is a competitive industry and manufacturers try as much as possible to cut the costs. But Dr Williams said companies could do more by looking at the different processes used to make a chip, including the use of chemicals.

"It is not clear there has been enough effort to reduce the energy bill andthe total materials used," he said.

This article was kindly provided by Dr. Richard Dixon of the WWF.


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