SK hynix Responds to the Climate Crisis: A Step Forward Achieving Carbon Net Zero

By December 24, 2020 January 7th, 2021 No Comments

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Amid the intensifying climate crisis, such as the longest rainy season this year, typhoons, unprecedented heatwaves, and hurricanes, the environmental management capabilities of companies are becoming more important. In particular, from 2021, the mandatory reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be implemented in major countries across the world. Accordingly, the efforts of global companies to reduce carbon emissions are emerging as a key agenda that can determine the future of a company, beyond an activity for environmental protection.

SK hynix is also moving responsively for this. In 2018, SK hynix announced the Environmental & Clean Operation (ECO) Vision 2022 and began preparations for an eco-friendly production system. In addition, it is actively participating in the efforts to overcome the global climate crisis through many activities for carbon emission reduction, as well as building a sustainable green management model as one of the leaders in the field.

The newsroom team met with Sang Geun Min, Technical Leader (TL) of SHE R&D Team and Sang Jun Lim, TL of Global Logistics Team to hear about the direction and progress of SK hynix’s efforts for the environmental sustainability.

ECO Vision 2022: An Eco-Friendly Semiconductor Production Plant for the Future of SK hynix

With the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 20201, the Paris Agreement, which will be the basis of the new climate system, was adopted at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21)2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)3. Under this agreement, all 195 parties which account for more than 90% of the global GHG emissions have decided to reduce GHG emissions step by step, with the long-term global goal of making efforts not to increase the global average temperature by more than 2℃ compared to the level in the pre-industrial time. In the case of Korea, it proposed a voluntary goal of “30% reduction compared to the 2020 business-as-usual (BAU)4 GHG level” in 2009, in recognition of climate change as an opportunity to create new economic growth power. To achieve this, Korea has laid the legal basis for the implementation for the target by enacting the Framework Act on Law Carbon, Green Growth in 2011. In 2012, the GHG & Energy Target Management System was implemented and the GHG reduction roadmap was established in 2014. Also, from 2015, the Emissions Trading System has been implemented.

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The Emissions Trading System allows the government to allocate emission permits at a lower level than before to major companies that emit GHG and to permit the remaining emissions to be traded in the market if less carbon is emitted through the activities to reduce emission. Since the amount of emission allocated to each company is small in order to effectively achieve the national GHG reduction target, it naturally induces activities to reduce GHG emissions.

This limitation of carbon emissions can lead to a decrease in productivity and efficiency in manufacturing; however, SK hynix considered a preemptive strategy for responding to the climate crisis, beyond passively participating in government policies. In 2018, SK hynix announced the ECO Vision 2022, which includes measures to realize eco-friendly semiconductor production processes.

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ECO Vision 2022 presents specific implementation goals in each of the fields including “environmental activities”, “strengthening the semiconductor ecosystem”, and “contributing to solving social issues”. One of the main goals in the field of environmental activities is to reduce GHG by 40% compared to BAU in 2016 by 2022. To achieve this goal, SK hynix is currently pursuing three strategies, which include the following: reduction of consumption and cost through energy system optimization, reduction of GHG emissions through technology development and equipment improvement; and establishment of alternative energy infrastructure which does not emit carbon.

Sang Geun Min, TL of SHE R&D Team said, “SK hynix has already recognized the importance of reducing GHG emissions from long ago. The company agreed on a voluntary reduction target of the World Semiconductor Council (WSC) and achieved a 10% reduction in perfluorocarbons (PFCs)5 emissions by 2010 compared to 1997. Since 2008, the company has been making continuous efforts to reduce GHG emissions by participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and its efforts were highly recognized by being selected as the ‘Best Carbon Management Company’ for seven consecutive years.” He added, “SK hynix is doing its best to reduce GHG emissions in workplaces in various ways, such as introducing the Best Available Technology (BAT)6 and equipment.

SK hynix’s Efforts to Reduce GHG Emissions: From Eco-Friendly Technology Development to Electric Vehicles

Just like unplugging plugs which are not being used for saving energy at home, SK hynix’s activities for energy reduction began with reducing the amount of wasted energy. One of the examples is introducing a standardized energy operation system called ISO50001 to minimize the amount of electricity used to operate buildings and equipment. At the same time, SK hynix improved the scrubber equipment which treats GHG generated in the process which contributed to greatly reducing the amount discharged outside the workplace. In addition to this, it is preparing to make its plants “Green Plants” which ultimately do not emit carbon, by building alternative energy infrastructure. SK hynix also obtained the Environmental Product Declaration7 (Five carbon footprint certifications and six low carbon product certifications), which is only given to eco-friendly semiconductor products. Now, let’s take a closer look at SK hynix’s efforts for the environment.

▶ Mission 1: Optimization of the Energy Use System in the Workplace to “Avoid Energy Leakage”

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Semiconductor plants which are usually operated 24 hours a day, run a lot of equipment and consume an enormous amount of power in the process of cooling down the heat of the operated equipment, which in turn leads to an increase in GHG emissions. Therefore, it can be said that preventing energy leakage and reducing power consumption by optimizing the energy use system is the first step to take for the transition to a low-carbon eco-friendly company.

To realize this, SK hynix has reorganized the company-wide energy operation system. The company has been monitoring the energy use in all business sites and grasping the effect of energy reduction activities through continuous performance indicator management. As a result, it obtained the Energy Management System (ISO50001)8 certification, an international standard related to eco-friendly energy management, from the British Standards Institution (BSI).

One of the representative examples of identifying improvements and realizing energy reduction through the ISO50001 operation is the “Project for the Improvement of the Energy Efficiency of the Out Air Conditioner (OAC)”. By applying artificial intelligence (AI) analysis technology to the OAC, a device that circulates air inside and outside the clean room, the amount of power consumed to operate the device was greatly reduced, resulting in saving a total energy cost of KRW 2.75 billion.

▶ Mission 2: Reduction of Process Gas and Fine Dust though Technology Development to “Reduce GHG Generation”

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In semiconductor manufacturing equipment where various types of chemicals are used, process gases which cause GHG such as PFCs, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen dioxide (N₂O) are used. SK hynix is disassembling the process gases through a three-step treatment procedure which involves the point of use (POU) scrubber, middle wet scrubber, and main wet scrubber.

Among them, the POU scrubber is a very important device that is correctly connected to manufacturing equipment to process more than 90% of the total process gases. To maintain constant processing efficiency, performance tests are periodically conducted through a Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR)9. Through the existing FT-IR equipment, however, it was difficult to obtain an accurate result of the process gas concentration due to the dilution caused by the air introduced inside the POU scrubber chamber10. Depending on the equipment, incorrect results were obtained as if the processing efficiency was higher than the actual one.

To solve this problem, SK hynix, together with the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS), has developed a measurement technology that uses measurement equipment called quadruple mass spectrometer (QMS) which detects the air dilution effect inside the POU scrubber. By measuring the residual process gas concentration in the POU scrubber through the FT-IR equipment and measuring the air dilution through QMS, obtaining an accurate treatment efficiency value became possible. Through this, it became possible to perform performance inspection and equipment improvement for the overall POU scrubbers in the workplace. As a result, the reduction rate of process gas emissions by PFC gas, based on the Icheon Campus, doubled compared to 2015.

Along with this, a technology to remove nitrogen oxides (NOx), which is one of the by-products of the POU scrubber and also one of the causes of fine dust has been developed. The De-NOx system utilizing the principle of the reduction-oxidation reaction11 was installed on the middle wet scrubber, enabling it to treat nitrogen oxides that could be not dealt with by the existing wet treatment method. The De-NOx system which boasts a high NOx removal rate of more than 90% is expected to be expanded and installed at Icheon Campus, mainly at the M14 plant, the new Fab M16, and Cheongju Campus. TL Min said, “The introduction of the QMS and the De-NOx system is expected to play a role in treating GHG, as well as NOx generated in the process of GHG, just like killing “two birds with one stone”.

▶ Mission 3: Building an Alternative Energy Infrastructure to “Build Clean Workplaces”

Eco-friendly electric vehicles at the Icheon Campus

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Numerous vehicles come and go 24 hours a day at the SK hynix’s business sites. These vehicles are in charge of intra-site logistics and cooperative logistics transport between Icheon and Cheongju Campuses. More than 100 large-sized diesel vehicles carry various materials back and forth over 1,600 times a day and a total distance of 23,000 km along the 40 routes established inside and outside the business sites. The amount of fumes generated from these vehicles is around 8 tons per day and 2,600 tons per year.

To solve this pollution problem, SK hynix began replacing its freight transport vehicles operating in its business sites with electric vehicles this year. As soon as an electric freight vehicle for enterprises was released at the end of last year, the company started replacing them. Considering that the maximum capacity of this vehicle is 1 ton, it was decided to gradually replace the small 1-ton trucks first, which account for 40 units out of 100 vehicles. Ten vehicles with old exhaust systems due to their old age were selected as the targets to be replaced with the top priority, and seven and three electric vehicles are in operation at the Ichoen Campus and Cheonju Campus respectively.

By the end of this year, a total of three electric vehicle charging facilities will be installed, including one in the Icheon Campus and two in the Cheongju Campus. In the next five years, all 1-ton vehicles in the business sites are expected to be replaced with electric vehicles. When this goal is achieved, it is expected to reduce GHG emissions by 400 tons per year. Sang Jun Lim, TL of Global Logistics Team said, “When the electric-vehicle-related technologies such as battery manufacturing technology is developed further and large vehicles of 2.5 tons and 5 tones can be replaced with electric vehicles, the effect will be even greater. We will be continuously monitoring the changes in the trend of related technology.”

A New ECO Vision Preparing for the Next Decade with the Goal of “Zero Carbon Emissions”

It has been three years since the ECO Vision 2022 was announced. As the projects that have been carried out by SK hynix so far are showing desired results, it is time to find out the next steps in SK hynix’s strategy to respond to the climate crisis.

Sang Geun Min, TL of SHE R&D Team

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ECO Vision 2022, established as a five-year plan, has set detailed targets for each year and has been implementing them step by step. The remaining activities of the ECO Vision 2022, including De-NOx and expansion of the installation of the solar power generation facilities, will be carried out in accordance with the short-term goals and directions of 2021.

In addition, as the time for achieving the goal of the ECO Vision 2022 is approaching, SK hynix is now reviewing a new mid- to long-term roadmap for environmental protection activities after 2022. TL Min said, “We are also establishing a long-term plan to build an eco-friendly energy system that will make SK hynix become a ‘Carbon Net Zero12’ company.” He added, “We started to improve our constitution as a green plant company that produces eco-friendly energy on its own, rather than passively consuming limited energy resources.”

SK hynix has formed a company-wide task force for renewable energy to monitor domestic and foreign policies regarding renewable energy and is gradually increasing solar power generation facilities centered on new factories and major business sites. One of the most representative examples is the recent installation of 641 kW solar power generation facilities at the Icheon Campus. These facilities currently produce about 60 MWh of renewable energy per month and supply their own power to the lighting system of restaurants in the building.

Sang Jun Lim, TL of Global Logistics Team

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SK hynix is also seeking ways to reduce the consumption of plastics used in the production and distribution process. TL Lim said, “A large amount of plastic is used in the packaging process to prevent damage to semiconductor chips. We are constantly collaborating with related organizations to discover eco-friendly materials that can replace plastic packaging materials.”

(From left) Sang Jun Lim, TL of Global Logistics Team and Sang Geun Min,
TL of SHE R&D Team

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Amid the accelerating climate change, SK hynix is ready to become an eco-friendly company with the preparation and efforts one step ahead. Lastly, the two TLs urged all employees to give active participation and efforts to these changes.

“GHG reduction is no longer an issue only for a few companies, but a globally important issue in terms of survival of human beings. At times like this, it is necessary for everyone to participate in actions in life, even though it is small, with the mindset of ‘it is related to me’. We want to ask for more interest and participation in activities related to GHG reduction promoted by companies and governments, starting with small efforts, such as saving electricity in offices.”

 

1 Kyoto Protocol: Specific implementation measures to regulate and prevent the global warming, such as imposing an obligation to reduce GHG emissions by an average of 5.2% compared to the level in 1990 during the first commitment period (2018 to 2012) to developed countries, with a definition on the six GHGs, the main cause of climate change, which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen fluorocarbon, perfluorocarbon, and sulfur hexafluoride
2 Conference of Parties (COP): The highest meeting held once a year by the Parties to review key issues, including how to implement the agreed matters, as the highest decision-making body related to the Climate Change Convention
3 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): A convention agreed by countries around the world to prevent global warming by limiting the GHG emissions including carbon dioxide
4 Business As Usual (BAU): Total amount of GHG expected if no artificial measures are taken to reduce GHG emissions
5 Perfluorocarbons (PFCs): A type of GHG mainly used in semiconductor manufacturing as compounds of carbon (C) and fluorine (F); Its Global Warming Potential (GWP) is thousands to tens of thousands of times that of carbon dioxide and some substances have a lifetime in the atmosphere of 50,000 years.
6 Best Available Technology (BAT): The most efficient, economically and technically available activity or operation method for GHG reduction and energy saving, in accordance with the “Administrative Guideline for the Greenhouse Gas and Energy Target Management System” by the Ministry of Environment
7 Environmental Product Declaration: A certification system from the Ministry of Environment that quantitatively displays the impact of pollutant emitted in the entire process of a product, such as raw material collection, manufacturing, use, and disposal, on the global environment, given to products that meet appropriate standards; When the environmental impact is transparently disclosed through a life cycle assessment (LCA) in the carbon emission sector, a “Carbon Footprint” certification is granted and a “Low Carbon Product” certification is granted if the carbon emission is reduced compared to existing products by applying low-carbon technology, among products that have obtained the “Carbon Footprint” certification.
8 Energy Management System (ISO50001): A system that allows energy users or energy supplies to set management goals that can improve energy use efficiency; a management activity system that systematically and continuously manages human and material resources and management systems according to certain procedures and methods to achieve the management goals
9 Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR)
A technique of conducting Fourier transform on the interference stripes obtained by using two luminous flux interferometers instead of a distributed spectrometer in the optical system; it uses the Fourier transform as signal processing means, among methods of obtaining infrared absorption spectrum (Fourier transform: An algorithm to approximate a function; when assuming that there is an amount f (t) that fluctuates with time (t), it contains various frequency components, and if these components are extracted and rearranged as a distribution F(ω) of the component intensity of each frequency ω, the nature of a phenomenon can be more easily understood.)
10 Chamber: An instrument used for heating materials or specifically used at a certain temperature
11 Reduction-oxidation reaction: A chemical reaction where an oxidation reaction that gives electrons and a reduction reaction that receives electrons occur simultaneously between two substances
12 Carbon Net Zero: To offset GHG emissions that cause global warming, through GHG reduction and absorption activities such as renewable energy generation, making the total amount of net ‘0 (zero)’