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Report: TSMC and UMC Are Trucking in Water to Prevent Further Chip Shortages

A chip being held in front of the TSMC logo.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Joining silicon shortages and limited factory capacity in delaying Taiwanese chip production, more mundane resource shortages such as a lack of water in Taiwan are also threatening to slow chipmakers' pace, although the companies have a plan to compensate for the island's recent drought.

DigiTimes today reported that TSMC, UMC, and other chipmakers in Taiwan plan to purchase water by the truckload to minimize a regional water shortage’s effect on their already strained production capabilities. The chipmakers' reportedly plan to purchase a combined 3,600 metric tons of water this week, and more could follow.

Reuters reported that ”water levels in several reservoirs in the island’s central and southern region stand at below 20%,” leading Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua to say the government has “planned for the worst,” and that it hopes “companies can reduce water usage by 7% to 11%” in response to the shortages.

Taiwan is no stranger to water shortages. The BBC reported in 2015 that up to 3 million people could go without water as the country faced record droughts. Those issues persisted, and Taiwan News said in January that 2020 was “particularly dry” because a typhoon didn’t strike during the flood season for the first time since 1964.

The combined 3,600 metric tons purchased by TSMC and UMC pales in comparison to the amount of water used by companies at the Southern Taiwan Science Park. DigitTimes reported that companies in the park use a combined 175,000 metric tons of water every day; the 3,600 being trucked in represent just 2% of that daily usage.

The companies also recycle a significant amount of their waste water, however, with DigiTimes putting the figure over 85%. Reducing their water usage means they can either improve the efficiency of their processes, recycle even more of their waste water, or experiment with bringing in water from outside the affected reservoirs.

That’s probably why TSMC told Reuters this order was a “pressure test.” Chipmakers might be planning to bring in more water if the initial delivery goes well and the drought continues later into the year. TSMC said right now it’s “making preparations for our future water demand.” Those preparations could change over time.

One thing that won’t change: demand for TSMC and UMC’s chips. Their semiconductors remain in short supply due to the availability of raw materials, the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on production, and other companies’ desire to use the latest processes in their own products. There just aren’t enough chips to go around.

  • InvalidError
    Depending on how close to shore the fabs are, building a reverse osmosis plant to process sea water might be cheaper and more energy-efficient than using trucks and they could share some of costs with companies that are along the water pipes that also need process (not necessarily up to drinking standard) water.
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    And I thought this would be another article on Texas.

    The challenges of large scale production.

    By my back of the mousepad calculation that was about 225 truckloads of water just for the 3600 tons. So 225 trucks a day for 2% of the daily need. Ouch.

    I guess a Typhoon is needed. Not often you say that.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    InvalidError said:
    Depending on how close to shore the fabs are, building a reverse osmosis plant to process sea water might be cheaper and more energy-efficient than using trucks and they could share some of costs with companies that are along the water pipes that also need process (not necessarily up to drinking standard) water.
    It may be, and a good way to reuse/conserve water. But running a reverse osmosis water plant is quite power intensive as well.
    Reply
  • jkflipflop98
    Most fab facilities already have a reverse osmosis plant on-site. You can't run a cleanroom on regular tap water.
    Reply
  • lazyabum
    TSMC can get it on the cheap if they bought Russian Siberian snow ice by the ship load. Would melt mostly on the way there.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    jkflipflop98 said:
    Most fab facilities already have a reverse osmosis plant on-site. You can't run a cleanroom on regular tap water.
    This is true, but it seems they may only be using tap water to run through the reverse osmosis process. Once the water is used in the fab, I am not sure it goes back through the reverse osmosis plant to be "recycled".
    Reply
  • velocityg4
    InvalidError said:
    Depending on how close to shore the fabs are, building a reverse osmosis plant to process sea water might be cheaper and more energy-efficient than using trucks and they could share some of costs with companies that are along the water pipes that also need process (not necessarily up to drinking standard) water.

    Could be. The big problem being they can't build it overnight. It'd take a while to build the plant. Along with laying all the water pipes through an urbanized area.

    Then once it all returns. They could be hit by a decade of rain fall. With the plant just sitting unused as tap water becomes abundant again.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    velocityg4 said:
    Then once it all returns. They could be hit by a decade of rain fall. With the plant just sitting unused as tap water becomes abundant again.
    The trend globally is more extreme droughts and more extreme floods, so the more likely scenario is probably more severe drought-flood cycles for them too and a need to diversify the supply for stability.
    Reply
  • kAILL
    InvalidError said:
    Depending on how close to shore the fabs are, building a reverse osmosis plant to process sea water might be cheaper and more energy-efficient than using trucks and they could share some of costs with companies that are along the water pipes that also need process (not necessarily up to drinking standard) water.
    They are a they are about 8 miles from the sea and there is what looks like a river next to the Fab as well.
    Reply