Silicon wafers form an indispensable part of the semiconductor industry, powering everything from your fitness watch and smartphone to complex computers. But rising costs, combined with concerns about the environmental impact of discarded wafers have increased the demand for reclaiming silicon wafers.
Computer chips typically start out as cylindrical silicon crystals, or ingots. Manufacturers then slice the ingots into thin wafers that form the base for integrated circuits. However, not all wafers pass the stringent quality standards, and electronics wear out. Consequently, the wafers become part of the millions of tons of e-waste produced annually.
Fortunately, proper processing facilitates wafer recycling. Benefits of reclaiming silicon wafers include reducing cost and sustaining the environment. Micro-abrasive blasting provides the precision necessary to clean and etch the wafers, safely removing unwanted material without damaging the underlying silicon.
Even though the earth produces abundant amounts of silicon, the amount of processing involved in producing a silicon wafer greatly increases the cost. At the same time, silicon suppliers have struggled to keep up with increasing demand. The ongoing trade war with China, a major silicon producer, further complicates the problem.
Consequently, the cost of prime grade silicon continues to rise. Fortunately, for many applications, recycled silicon wafers do the job at a fraction of the cost. This has the potential to significantly drive down expenses, for the semiconductor industry as well as for researchers and various testing applications.
For instance, university researchers often use test grade wafers to assess equipment and processes or to train students. Recycled wafers, though often thinner than a virgin wafer, typically offer performance equal to test grade wafers. For departments on tight budgets, this offers an economical alternative.
Protect the Environment by Reclaiming Silicon Wafers
While the semiconductor industry experiences a shortage of prime grade silicon wafers, it rejects over 2 million wafers each year. With recycling, however, wafers can gain new life. Workers remove patterns or defects, then polish and clean the wafer to make it ready for repurposing. A single wafer can undergo multiple reclaim cycles.
As described above, recycled wafers prove useful as test wafers. Other uses include automotive electronics and low-end consumer electronics that involve less demanding computing. The solar industry, in particular, provides a natural home for reclaimed wafers.
Used in solar panels, silicon wafers absorb the photons in light, allowing for the creation of electricity. Because solar silicon requires lower purity standards than electronics, recycled wafers work efficiently in solar panels. Consequently, solar applications for reclaimed wafers both reduce waste and make solar energy more accessible.
How Micro-Abrasive Blasting Can Help
Micro-abrasive blasting provides a safe and environmentally friendly way to remove electronic circuits and impurities from the wafer without damaging the substrate. Unlike the commonly-used hydrofluoric acid, which is harmful for both the environment and human skin, micro-abrasion minimizes environmental and health hazards.
Furthermore, abrasive blasting combines precision and power with gentle action. The process generates no heat or vibrations. This makes it an ideal method for working with delicate silicon. In addition to removing coatings, oxidation, scratches and other defects, abrasive blasting also works well for thinning and etching the wafers.
From reclaiming silicon wafers to removing wire coatings and trimming capacitors, micro-abrasive blasting offers a host of applications for electronics. With a full line of equipment and abrasive powders, and decades of proven experience, Airbrasive will help you find the right solution for your needs.