[Feature: World Water Day] SK hynix Manages Water with Sincerity

By March 22, 2021 March 30th, 2021 No Comments

In February this year, an unusually heavy snowfall and cold wave hit Texas. This abnormal climate incurred numerous casualties and forced citizens to suffer from power and water shortages. With the abnormal climate worldwide emerging as a serious issue, the demand for capabilities for eco-friendly management of companies is also increasing.

SK hynix is also spurring its movements as an eco-friendly company. SK hynix has announced a roadmap for SV2030, the company’s mid- to long-term plan to maximize social value (SV) creation and is carrying out various eco-friendly projects through Green2030, which includes mid- to long-term goals and plans for environmental protection. In particular, as the water shortage issue caused by climate change is emerging, the company is continuing the activities for water management more thoroughly. On the occasion of the “World Water Day”, the newsroom team took a look at the water management by SK hynix.

“Thirsty Earth”, Even Companies Set out to Protect the Environment across Borders

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March 22 every year is World Water Day designated by the United Nations (UN). This day was first formally proposed in the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The purpose is to protect and improve water resources by recognizing the seriousness of water-related issues such as water pollution and water shortages caused by the damaged environment due to indiscriminate development.

According to the “UN World Water Development Report 2020 – Water and Climate Change”, water consumption worldwide has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and has increased steadily by around 1% per year due to growing population, economic development, and changes in consumption patterns. In addition to this, irregular water supply due to climate change is aggravating the situations in the areas affected by the water shortage. It is also expected that even regions with abundant resources will experience water stress1.

Many international organizations worldwide are raising awareness about the water stress issue. The data from “WRI’s Aqueduct tools” by the World Resources Institute (WRI), reveal that 17 countries – home to 25% of the world’s population – face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. Also, a high level of water stress is expected in 44 major countries in the world.2

What is the water stress index of South Korea? According to the WRI, the water stress level of South Korea is medium-high, with a water stress index of 20 to 40%. Also, according to the water stress level by country in the “UN World Water Development Report 2019”, South Korea has a water stress index of 25 to 70% and classified as water stress country.3

These environmental issues are bound to have a direct impact on companies, not just on countries. Due to a drought in Taiwan, the water level of the reservoir tank in central and southern Taiwan was expected to drop below 20% in several months and the Taiwanese Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua urged companies to reduce their water consumption. Accordingly, big Taiwanese companies began procuring external water in the situation where the region-wide water-saving measures were implemented and is also preparing plans for the further future.

For companies, there is an increasing need for ESG management that considers non-financial factors including environmental impact, social responsibility, and transparency of governance, away from the management pursuing profits only. For this reason, water resource management is one of the important items in the evaluation by investors and stakeholders. Technical Leader (TL) Yong-Je Lee at SK hynix’s Icheon Environment Team said, “Water is used in the manufacturing process as an essential utility. Water management is fundamental for companies as issues like water shortages are highlighted worldwide.”

SK hynix’s Endless Efforts with Sincerity on Water Management

In line with this global trend, SK hynix is also committing itself to water management. SK hynix has recently announced the Green2030 roadmap for SV2030. The company’s core goals in the water management field include maximizing water management efficiency through the expansion of reuse and securing ecological health. From the perspective of resolving the global water shortage issue, SK hynix plans to increase the amount of water saved by 300% (more than three times compared with 2019). Also, as it is necessary to analyze the influence of effluent water on the aquatic ecosystem, SK hynix is carrying out activities to secure biodiversity and prove the healthiness of water quality through constant monitoring. How is SK hynix carrying out “water management” based on its core goals?

Point 1 Transparent Disclosure of All Information Related to Water Management

Due to the recent climate change issue, companies are now asked to engage in eco-friendly activities and disclose information about the product’s environmental impacts. In particular, even from the perspective of companies, the water shortage issue is directly related to productivity, so this is a very important evaluation factor for stakeholders. Accordingly, SK hynix is making great efforts on the transparent disclosure of information to stakeholders.

Yong-Je Lee, TL of the Icheon Environment Team

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SK hynix discloses water-management-related activities transparently by participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)4 Water. CDP analyzes the information and indicators related to eco-friendliness submitted by companies to evaluate each company’s activities every year. TL Yong-Je Lee explained, “The evaluation items of the CDP Water are various, including disclosure (completeness of corporate response), awareness (corporate awareness level of environmental issues, risks, and impact on business), management (corporate activities, policies, and strategies to respond to environmental issues), and leadership (best practices related to environmental management and leadership). However, what’s important is defining risks that may arise from water shortages and establishing a mid- to long-term strategy for efficient water resource management.”

SK hynix, which has been participating in the CDP Water since 2015, has been highly evaluated for its excellence in water resource management such as water recycling and saving. As a result, SK hynix received the “Leadership A” grade in the “water management” category and won the grand prize at the 2019 CDP Korea Awards. TL Yong-Je Lee said, “At that time, SK hynix announced ‘ECO Vision 2022’5 for the efficient water resource management and set a goal to increase the average daily water resource recycling amount of domestic business sites to 62,000 tons. We could win the grand prize because we saved water resource and strengthened the monitoring system for the water treatment process.”

In addition, SK hynix is working hard for the “water footprint” certification. The water footprint is a system that quantitatively indicates the amount of water used to display the environmental impact of the entire manufacturing process, including raw material collection, production, transport/distribution, use, and disposal. This can induce continuous improvement of the environment by accurately and transparently disclosing the environmental impact of products and services. For the life cycle assessment (LCA), the company has collected a vast amount of data.

Eun-kyung Lee, TL of the Icheon Environment Team

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With these efforts, SK hynix has obtained the water footprint certification for a total of six products. This includes 1Xnm 6 Gb LPDDR4 DRAM and 72 layer 256 Gb TLC NAND Flash that were certified in February this year.

Eun-kyung Lee, TL of the Icheon Environment Team said, “SK hynix has been selecting two representative products to receive the water footprint certification since 2018 and the company plans to gradually increase the number of certified products. TL Yong-je Lee said, “Water certification is used as an index to identify factors that can reduce environmental impact, as it accurately measures the amount of water consumed to produce a single semiconductor. It is also used as a standard for stakeholders to select eco-friendly products.”

Point 2 Establishment of Various Systems to Reduce the Water Consumption

If the semiconductor industry can be called “an essential of industry”, water can be called “an essential of the semiconductor industry”. In particular, in the semiconductor manufacturing process, it is essential to use ultrapure water (UPW) with ions, particles, chlorine, and silicon dioxide removed, which makes it important to achieve the stable water quality management. It is also important to implement subsequent management for the water used in the manufacturing process.

SK hynix is treating wastewater through a system that includes advanced treatment methods, such as using activated carbon and a facility to remove total phosphorus. The company has further enhanced the quality of the effluent as well by utilizing advanced and integrated wastewater treatment facilities to treat the wastewater that used to be treated in the partly deteriorated facilities.

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In addition to stable management of the effluent through advanced wastewater treatment, SK hynix is recycling the effluent, taking the lead in the activities for the water consumption reduction. These activities include using a wastewater recycling system and a cooling tower reuse system.

Inside the wastewater treatment plant, SK hynix established the “wastewater recycling system” that treats wastewater to the level of industrial water through ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) processes, and supplies it to the places where it is needed. Since the UPW is essential in semiconductor manufacturing, the UF process, which is a filter treatment method that filters down to nanometers (nm), and the RO process, which uses a pressure stronger than osmotic pressure to obtain clean water, were used. The RO process that plays a key role here is a highly advanced water treatment system mainly used to purify seawater. TL Eun-kyung Lee said, “Through the process like these, SK hynix carries out the quality control strictly according to the water quality standards required for each use. The amount of water reused through the process is up to 60,000 tons a day.”

SK hynix established a cooling tower reuse facility as well. A cooling tower prevents the introduction of external pollutants thoroughly by maintaining constant temperature and humidity, which is essential in the semiconductor manufacturing process. During the summer season, the water consumption of the cooling tower greatly increased, nearly double compared to the winter season, due to the increase in outside air temperature, and it was necessary to establish a system to reduce this. Accordingly, a plan was prepared to reuse the water discharged from the cooling water by using the microfiltration (MF) and ultraviolet (UV) ray sterilizer processes. The MF process treats the water by filtering 0.1 to 10.0 nm particles and removes lipid droplets, proteins with high molecular weight, and microbial cells, and the UV sterilizer sterilizes the water through UV. After going through the MF and UV processes, the discharged water is reused in the cooling tower or reused as water to wash scrubbers (equipment that collects solid or liquid particles floating in a gas using a liquid). TL Eun-kyung Lee said, “The amount of water reused per day through the cooling tower system is 26,000 tons as of December 2020. When the entire system is operated normally, it is expected that up to 10,000 tons of water can be saved per day

Point 3 “Aquatic Ecosystem Preservation” through Water Quality Management and Monitoring”

The water management areas of SK hynix extend to local communities as well as its business sites. Since 2019, SK hynix has been monitoring the aquatic ecosystem in a total of five locations, including a regional stream called Jukdangcheon and Bokhacheon that joins the Namhan River. Along with water quality, physical environments of bottom waters such as sediment (the bottom of a flow path in a certain direction where the river water flows), geographical features, and structures, and aquatic ecosystem including plants and mammals are checked in real-time. This is to preserve the ecological environment by identifying how the operation of business sites affects the aquatic ecosystem.

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For the aquatic ecosystem monitoring, ecological changes are monitored in comparison with the reference streams in accordance with the National Natural Environment Survey Guidelines (National Institute of Ecology, 2015) and Assessment Guidelines for Aquatic Ecosystem Health (National Institute of Environmental Research, 2016). In the case of Jukdangcheon, the species inhabiting are various including floras, mammals, and birds when comparing to the reference streams such as Jangrokcheon and Wonducheon. TL Eun-kyung Lee said, “In the case of Jukdangcheon, the inhabitation of legally protected species including otters, leopard cats, and common kestrels is confirmed. When checked quarterly, the number of species inhabiting increases over time and it can be confirmed that there is no abnormality in the aquatic ecosystem through the stable inhabitation.”

Also, an “emergency detention facility” was installed to prevent damage to the aquatic ecosystem in the event of an unexpected environmental accident. In this facility, when a real-time automatic water quality meter detects an abnormality in water quality, the water is transferred to the emergency detention facility to stop discharging the water. In other words, whether to discharge water is determined only after safe water quality is assured.

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In addition to the telemetering system (TMS, an automatic measuring device) that measures physical and chemical indicators, a special system unique to SK hynix exists in the automatic water quality meter of the emergency detention facility. It is a biomonitoring device that uses changes in the behavioral patterns of underwater organisms, caused by the inflow of pollutants. The presence of toxic substances can be determined by converting and quantifying the changes in behavioral patterns that Daphnia pulex (water flea), algae, and sulfate bacteria show for heavy metals, organic substances, and ionic substances, respectively, into electronic physical quantities.

These bio-monitored species are cultured according to appropriate water quality conditions and the survival and status of each individual are checked in real-time. The monitoring results are managed in four stages, which are interest, attention, alert, and severe. TL Yong-Je Lee said, “SK hynix is playing a role in ensuring the stability of effluent water by directly checking the impact on organisms, in addition to the pollutant indicators managed by the government. SK hynix is the only company in the world that operates an emergency detention reservoir through biomonitoring devices.”

Thanks to the sustainable water quality management activities, SK hynix could issue a green bond (a type of bond with a special purpose, limited to be used only for eco-friendly projects) successfully. With the green bond funds, SK hynix plans to continue to invest in treatment facilities for recycling water used in the production, as well as wastewater treatment plants. Also, the company plans to further reinforce emergency detention facilities and provide a space for locals to enjoy leisure through ecological parks.

“To Communicate with Stakeholders Continuously by Contributing to the Environment through Eco-friendly Projects”

What kind of future is SK hynix, which is gradually expanding its areas for water management, planning ultimately? In terms of water management, SK hynix is dreaming of the future of expanding water resource reuse, proving aquatic ecological health through stable water treatment, and securing technological prowess to identify micro-pollutants in addition to legally managed substances.

SK hynix has established a water resource recycling target of 138,000 tons/day in average by 2030. To achieve this goal, SK hynix plans to install and operate a reuse system of 40,000-ton scale at the wastewater treatment plant. Also, it plans to reinforce various technologies to establish a world-class level water quality management system. Lastly, the company expects to strictly manage drinking water at SK hynix as well and expand the related businesses by understanding overseas drinking water management cases and standards. TL Yong-Je Lee said, “It is expected to be able to communicate with stakeholders while managing and preventing actual environmental risks at the same time.”

SK hynix is growing into an eco-friendly company in the current times where environmental issues such as abnormal climate and water shortage are affecting our daily lives. The two TLs expressed their sincerity about water management.

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“The semiconductor industry uses various types of chemicals and consumes a lot of water, so strict management of water is needed. However, SK hynix is proactively researching not only pollutant treatment technology, but also toxicity and the impact on nearby ecosystems. We believe that the company is moving forwards as an eco-friendly company with world-class expertise and technological prowess. We promise to continue to work harder to lead the way in this technology in the future.”


1Water stress: The share of water demand in water resources that can be used annually on average; the water stress level can be calculated as follows: 100*(fresh water intake)/(total water resources – environmental maintenance water); A higher value indicates a more serious water shortage.
4Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP): An organization that evaluates companies’ responses to the reduction of carbon dioxide, targeting “FT 500 Global Index” companies, which are the world’s top 500 companies based on the market capitalization (In the case of Korea, top 50 companies based on the market capitalization); headquartered in the UK, a non-profit organization founded in 2000 with the support of 35 European institutional investors; since 2003, the organization has been investigating corporate risks related to climate change, social enterprises, carbon emission reduction methods, annual reduction plans, etc., of major global companies to publish the results.
5ECO Vision 2022: A vision that adds the meaning of “Environmental & Clean Operation” to ECO, the word for environment and ecology; a sustainable management mission and mid- to long- term goal aiming for an eco-friendly semiconductor plant