Silicon wafers form the basic building blocks of the electronics industry, powering everything from your iPhone and smart thermostat to large server computers. But rising costs and the global silicon shortage have increased the need to reclaim silicon wafers. Estimated at $530 million in 2020, the global market for reclaimed silicon wafers could reach $840 million by 2026.
Starting out as cylindrical silicon crystals or ingots, manufacturers slice thin wafers from the silicon material to form the base for computer chips. However, many wafers fail the strict quality standards, and electronic components wear out. Unfortunately, these wafers contribute to the millions of tons of e-waste produced annually.
On the other hand, modern manufacturing processes reclaim silicon wafers for reuse. The benefits offered to reclaim silicon wafers include cost reductions and environmental conservation. Providing the precision necessary to clean and etch the wafers, Micro-abrasive blasting safely removes superfluous material without damaging the underlying silicon.
Making up 26% of the earth’s crust, silicon is the second most common element on Earth, exceeded only by oxygen. But the amount of processing required to produce a silicon wafer greatly increases the cost. In addition, silicon manufacturers have struggled to keep up with global demand, causing painful shortages in auto manufacturing and other industries.
With the cost of prime grade silicon rising, recycled silicon wafers do the job for many applications at a fraction of the cost. This can significantly reduce expenses for the semiconductor industry in addition to a variety of testing and research applications.
For example, universities often use test grade wafers to evaluate equipment and processes or to train students. Though typically thinner than virgin wafers, recycled wafers frequently offer performance equal to test grade wafers. For departments on tight budgets, reclaimed wafers offer a thrifty option.
Reclaim Silicon Wafers to Protect the Environment
As noted above, reclaimed wafers prove useful as test wafers. Other applications include automotive and low-level consumer electronics that require less demanding computing. The solar industry, for one, provides a natural and environmentally friendly home for reclaimed wafers.
Silicon wafers used in solar panels absorb light photons, generating an electrical current. The silicon used in solar panels must pass lower standards than in electronics. Thus, reclaimed wafers work well in solar panels. Thus, solar applications for recycled wafers reduce waste while making solar energy more accessible.
While the semiconductor industry suffers through a shortage of prime grade silicon wafers, it rejects over 2 million wafers every year. However, with recycling, wafers gain new life. Workers remove defects or existing patterns then clean and polish the wafer to make it ready for reuse. A single wafer can undergo up to five reclaim cycles.
Micro-Abrasive Blasting to Reclaim Silicon Wafers
Micro-abrasive blasting provides a safe and environmentally friendly way to remove electronic circuits and impurities from silicon wafers without damaging the substrate. Micro-abrasion minimizes environmental and health hazards. Unlike the caustic hydrofluoric acid, which is harmful for both the environment and human skin, it poses no environmental risks.
Moreover, abrasive blasting offers power and precision, but with gentle action. The process produces little heat and vibration. Thus, it serves as an ideal method for working on delicate silicon. In addition to removing oxidation, scratches, coatings, and other defects, abrasive blasting also works effectively to thin and etch wafers.
To reclaim silicon wafers, remove wire coatings, trim capacitors, and perform other applications in electronics, manufacturers often turn to micro-abrasive blasting. With a full complement of equipment and abrasive powders, and decades of electronics industry experience, Airbrasive will find or develop the right solution for the need.