Overview of Circular Economy Practices in High-tech Manufacturing Industries
The circular economy is frequently discussed on the level of larger value chains - better: value circles -, adding a lot of complexity and interdependencies to this approach. Individual industries however, can play a significant role to close material and value circles: The environmental footprint of the high-tech sector, such as the Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), flat panel display, semiconductor and advanced packaging industries, is huge, but a closer look unveils that circular economy practices are already widely adopted. This is due to some specifics of this industry, which are the very high material value, high chemicals throughput and costs, and tools invest. Under these conditions recovery of materials is an interesting business case, but faces also significant challenges, such as the complex recipes to process semiconductor substrates. Reclaim of wafers is common practice in the semiconductor industry and saves a significant amount of embedded carbon for manufacturing high-purity substrates. Reuse of carriers in LED manufacturing, panel level packaging and display manufacturing is technically challenging with costs as driver - and environmental advantages. The rapid technology progress in semiconductor industry builds on cutting-edge manufacturing tools, but what happens to this equipment after a few years? There are some excellent examples, how machinery is upgraded, remanufactured and/or repurposed in this industry. These examples will be discussed in detail in the paper, outlining challenges and solutions. The findings serve as a guideline for the whole high-tech sector to be aware of what is already possible in terms of circular approaches, but also for, e.g. the machine tools industry at large to be inspired by such examples. Overall, increasing circularity in these industries also helps to reduce the environmental footprint of information and communication technology (ICT) and other electronics products, which heavily rely on the upstream high-tech industries.