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Towards a more sustainable electronics industry

​CEA-Leti, a CEA Tech institute, is gradually shifting over to more sustainable practices. We sat down for a three-question interview with Thomas Ernst and Léa Di Cioccio, who lead the institute's scientific research programs.

Published on 21 August 2020

1) CEA-Leti now has its own environmental policy. What inspired it?

Even though we didn't have a formal policy, we had been working to make our practices more sustainable for a long time. At first, the kinds of environmental choices we were making were more out of common sense than part of a clear sustainability plan of any kind. We had taken steps to reduce the use of resources like critical metals and lower energy consumption throughout the product lifecycle, from manufacturing to use to recycling or reconditioning. But, with growing concerns about climate change and other environmental issues, it was time to put our sustainability policy down in writing.

The digital industries alone account for around 10% of total worldwide energy consumption and 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. That's twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the civil aviation industry. And that figure could double within five years. So, it was time.


2) What is CEA-Leti doing on the ground to reduce its environmental impacts?

Increasingly, the environmental impacts of digital technology are making headlines. On the other hand, the digital industries are also playing a very major role in the energy transition, enabling transformation in areas like transportation, smart heating, smart grids, distributed renewable energy production, multi-energy grids, and more powerful and efficient computing solutions.

But we want to do even more. Our policy includes things like developing solutions to reduce the amount of critical materials used to manufacture electronics, and making electronic devices more energy efficient. Our research covers the entire value chain, from processes like thin layer and atomic layer deposition, etching, transfer, and local deposition of new materials to energy efficiency, with very low power and energy harvesting solutions. We also strive to use as little water as possible in our own processes and have set up processes to recycle the waste silicon from our cleanrooms.


3) Are you working on this alone or with partners?

We are working with local partners on certain aspects. For example, we are collaborating with CEA-Liten, a CEA Tech institute, on battery lifecycle analysis, an area they are experts in. We are also engaged in the NEED for IoT project, which we set up with Grenoble-Alpes University as part of a grant proposal for the national Idex program to develop organizations and technologies that support sustainable nanoelectronics, most notably by reducing the use of or finding alternatives to the critical materials used in key IoT devices like sensors, memory, optronics, and spintronics. Under the NEED for IoT project, we are developing research methods and advanced technology demonstrators for IoT devices and their components. An economic analysis including acceptability and sustainability is part of every new solution we consider developing.

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