back to article Water worries flood in as chip industry and AI models grow thirstier

Water supply is seen as a growing risk factor for the chip industry with consumption rising by up to ten percent each year, and many of the biggest producers already operating in areas prone to water scarcity. A new report from market intelligence outfit S&P Global highlights what it sees as the expanding credit risks for …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    I've said many times that...

    choosing AZ for a Fab that needs millions of litres of precious water every year was stupid.

    States such as Washington and Maine have less water stress that AZ but all those it might just be those (Alleged) Semi-truck sized brown envelopes are bad news for the residents of AZ.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: I've said many times that...

      So have I.

      It would have been so much more reasonable to build fabs in the area of the Great Lakes. You know, where there's water ?

      Yeah, but the tax breaks were not as good, apparently.

      Fine. I'll just wait for the day where you have to shut down your precious fabs because the Colorado River is dry and you can't continue production. At the rythm it's being drained, that won't take so long.

      And, at that point, you can kiss your tax breaks, and your ass, good bye.

      And you deserve that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've said many times that...

        I heard they had already drained many aquifers that had held water for 10,000's of years. All this nonsense about climate change, the problem is poor conservation of resource. In "olden" days they would build mills and industry near the resources required. Now they look for tax breaks and then demand the resources move!

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: I've said many times that...

          Yes, the US Southwest, for example, has extracted a lot of its paleowater from sources such as the Ogallala. Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are likely to face drastic groundwater collapse in the relatively near future. California will be insulated somewhat by its economic and political power, and New Mexico by its low population density and widespread use of traditional water-management techniques. Colorado has water-management issues — the state water authority has had its power somewhat subverted by various backroom deals — but its mountains are the source of enough seasonal groundwater to see it through. Utah also has good mountain supply, and its state government is generally effective. And things aren't yet quite as bad in the high plains.

          Texas's size won't help it as much as in California because Texas is historically rather less effective at wielding its political power (in part because of its isolationism), and because the Texas ranchers and other rural residents have much less political pull in state politics than agribusiness does in California.

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: I've said many times that...

        Sadly in all these cases the money always wins. Reservoirs can be empty, the water table catastrophically low so boreholes are compromised but the only thing that matters is that big business can continue to strip resources.

        The same applies to any other natural resource.

        It is why the Amazon (and many other tropical forests) continue to be destroyed at the rate it is.

        Millions of hectares are strip-mined for metals to turn into stuff that is used for a bit then junked.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The solution is to locate these factories in Wales, where water falls out of the sky continuously all year round. They could just put a big funnel on the roof to catch it.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      England as well

      given the amount of wet stuff that has fallen from the sky this year.

      The local weather station is saying that we have had 254% of average rainfall for Jan/Feb

      My back garden will soon have dicks swimming around where there used to be grass. Just today(so far) we have had almost 1in of rain.

      My neighbour said yesterday,.

      "Don't worry. We'll have hosepipe bans by the end of May."

      I don't think that he was joking. He used to work at the Medium Range Weather place near Reading.

      1. Martin Summers

        Re: England as well

        "My back garden will soon have dicks swimming around where there used to be grass."

        Well they do like wet conditions I'll give you that.

      2. s. pam Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: England as well

        Possibly, but don't forget the impending Hose Pipe Bans that come every summer due to the utter incompetence of the water boards!

        1. JulieM Silver badge

          Re: England as well

          For once, it's not the water companies to blame for Britain not having the reservoir capacity.

          British people hate any kind of infrastructure. When anyone tries to construct a new reservoir, letters of objection come flooding in from people who prefer an annual hosepipe ban.

          I actually think we should just make the ban permanent. If shops stop selling hosepipes, everyone will get used to it.

          1. Lurko

            Re: England as well

            "British people hate any kind of infrastructure. "

            No, they hate NEW infrastructure. Once it's old and outlived its usefulness then they'll be demanding it's preserved, and can act as block against new infrastructure. Examples too many to mention, but the eyesore signal box at Birmingham New Street station, Welwyn Viaduct, and many railway stations come to mind.

          2. Rol

            Re: England as well

            Actually, they are to blame. When the water companies got privatised they went asset stripping mental. In my locale alone they filled in four reservoirs and sold them for housing development.

            Never in the history of my town had we had a hosepipe ban, but that sure changed.

            But I strongly agree that shops should stop selling hose pipes LOL

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: England as well

              "When the water companies got privatised they went asset stripping mental. In my locale alone they filled in four reservoirs and sold them for housing development."

              Speaking from my own experience, smaller raw water reservoirs were shut down for a range of good reasons - some had dams that simply weren't safe, and reconstructing them would cost ludicrous amounts of money and make no difference to the total resource position, some collected water that couldn't be viably treated to the incoming EU water quality standards. The problem with smaller reservoirs is also that they simply don't store enough water to make a difference to the overall storage position. Taking the water company I used to work for, their total reservoir storage is 250 Gl. Closing a few of the very old, small reservoirs won't be a rounding error on that sort of number. Let's take an example - you might recall the near-collapse of the dam at Toddbrook a few years back , with Chinooks flying in ballast to stabilise the thing. That owned by the Canals & Rivers Trust so not a raw water source, but is representative of the smaller reservoirs that the water companies closed. That held 1.2 megalitres, or 0.001 Gl. If you closed 100 of those it'd still make no material difference. Reservoirs for seasonal storage need to be BIG.

              As for "asset stripping", there were and still are very strict controls on the sale of operational land taken over from the water, so that the proceeds were effectively used to reduce customer bills. If the water company used land and developed it, then the value of the undeveloped land was used to discount bills, the value of development would be a profit or loss item for the company (because customers hadn't provided the capital or taken any development risk).

              So "asset stripping"? Nope. The assets inherited from the predecessor water authorities were often a sorry bag of grot that needed several billion spending to bring them up to safe standard that met the relevant quality standards. Even the newer stuff that the public sector built wasn't up too much - when the publicly owned water authority built a dam at Carsington, they'd almost completed it, and it collapsed in 1984 due to poor design. They were even warned beforehand by an engineering consultancy that the design was vulnerable to collapse and they pooh-poohed the warning. Had it lasted a bit longer, they'd have filled it, and then it would have collapsed and washed away about a third of the town of Ashbourne.

              There's many people who believe the water industry should be back in public ownership. What they don't remember is that when it was, governments of both colours deliberately allowed the assets to deteriorate, treated effluent quality was much worse, there were many more discharges of untreated sewage, and the quality of drinking water, whilst bacterially safe was very patchy for chemical content. And on top of that, the water authorities were over-manned, inefficient, and not in the slightest bit interested in innovative approaches to anything.

      3. Rosie Davies

        Welsh Rain is Different

        I was over in London yesterday and work colleagues were complaining about the rain, about the level you'd call "a nice day for a stroll" in Wales. I messaged the same colleague today when I'm back in Wales - it was raining hard enough to set off car alarms.

        Welsh rain is different. It remembers when it was part of the sea and could wreck our stupid ships and drown our puny bodies; it deeply resents having that taken away from it.

        Rosie

    2. Binraider Silver badge

      Except the labour costs make the US look good; and the export red tape issues that the GP apparently voted for but later changed their minds on (mostly due to being ill-informed by right wing rags) make the UK possibly the worst possible location to place an export business imaginable.

  3. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    They don't actually consume water, do they? I guess it might be expensive or difficult but I'd have thought that recycling ought to be possible.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      They can recycle but probably most don't because that's an extra expense. That'll have to change in places where water is scarce.

      Arizona might be good in one way because they already have a well developed "gray water" system that pipes non potable water (which might be recovered from say car washes and other users of potable water that don't leave it requiring full treatment at the water facility) to places that use it instead of potable water for irrigation like golf courses.

      A fab uses a lot of highly purified water to wash wafers during various stages of the process, and while some stages might introduce chemical contaminents, many do not. That water could either be purified and reused on site, or if it saves money piped to the city gray water system.

  4. JessicaRabbit

    We don't know who struck first, us or them, but we know that it was us that contaminated the water.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where does the actual water go once it's been used?

    1. cyberdemon Silver badge

      If you're lucky (e.g. it was only used for cooling) it goes into the atmosphere, where it will fall as rain, most likely Somewhere Else, like into an ocean, so you are depleting your freshwater reserves.

      If you're unlucky and the water is used in the fab process and not handled correctly, then it flows (with really nasty pollutants) into your watercourses and reservoirs. If it's handled properly then maybe it is evaporated off in ponds and thus separated from the pollutants.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Water disposed of from a fab is going to be much cleaner than the turd infested effluent the private water companies discharge into the rivers and sea.

        1. BebopWeBop
          Facepalm

          That depends on the quality of their filtering. If it savs money, and they can get away with it, I would not be too sure.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            What quality of filtering is needed to remove turds?

            1. Lurko

              "What quality of filtering is needed to remove turds?"

              Well, depends where you're talking about.

              The usual sources of foul water discharge are emergency overflows, and there's rarely any filtering at all on those for the simple reason that filters are always at risk of blocking unless you can keep an eye on them (see below). if you try and filter an emergency overflow on the sewerage system, it can only block when it's in use and therefore needed, and then you'll get raw sewage backing up out of people's toilets. They tend to get a bit uppity about that.

              The water coming into a waste water treatment plant usually has coarse metal bar screens to catch dead dogs, bikes, gangland bodies etc, and a finer screen to catch any particularly insoluble turds, big lumps of bog roll, women's sanitary products and other stuff that's going to be a problem for the treatment works. That's all scraped away and incinerated. The water then goes on with it's content of dissolved turds, mashed bog roll etc to a primary settlement tank. That gets left for the "mud" to settle out, and the sludge is pumped off, usually to a digester where it's allowed to warm up and decompose anaerobically. When that digestion process has finished it can be dried and sold as a soil improver, or taken away as sludge and injected into farmland as a fertiliser. As an aside, the digesters generate methane that sometimes used in power generation, although the digester gas needs careful treatment because if sulfides get through then the generators corrode very quickly. The liquors from the primary settlement tank then go on to the filter beds, the sort of big round tanks full of rocks you'll have seen somewhere or other, although some works use mechanically aerated tanks that whisk air into the liquors. The term "filter bed" is historic and a bit misleading - the liquors don't have any lumps in and look fairly clean, what's happening is that they are being subject to aerobic digestion by bacteria that kills off the pathogens and removes most of the impurities. The bacteria live on the medium of the filter bed (or in the aerated tank) but there's no physical filtration at that stage. After that the filtrate is put into a secondary settlement tank, where the detritus from the anaerobic filtration settles out, and that's sent to the digesters as well. At that point you can discharge the cleaned effluent to a water course if it's been treated to a high enough standard. For smaller works it's not uncommon to find a reed bed being used to polish the final effluent because the process isn't as good as at a large works, but filter beds are not normally necessary for larger works as the process is managed to ensure adequate quality. I used to work with people who'd known sewage works supervisors drink a glass of treated effluent to show visitors how clean it was, but I never personally encountered anyone willing to do that. Contrary to Guardian readers' beliefs, the quality of treated effluent is extremely high, although in some cases where there's still a lot of combined sewerage then the primary settlement tanks may have overflows, and in the worst case those may discharge raw sewerage as an alternative to the entire works being inundated.

              Here endeth today's lesson.

  6. Sparkus

    Never had this problem

    when Freon was a thing.........

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never had this problem

      When was Freon™® used in IC/silicon manufacturing?

      https://m.soundcloud.com/qanonanonymous/trickle-down-episode-17-earths-most-destructive-organism-part-3-sample

      1. Sparkus

        Re: Never had this problem

        must not have read/comprehended the article, expec the part where cooling datacenters was mentioned........

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We have the answer!

    It's simple, build the fabs in the UK. Wales for example.

    1. Lurko

      Re: We have the answer!

      Whilst that's probably tongue in cheek, it's worth noting that fab location is about a whole range of things, and there's qualifiers that have to be met before worrying about the other stuff like tax incentives. So for a fab, you need good transport links, you need a skilled hard working labour force, plenty of land suitable for construction, very cooperative planning authorities, in addition to water, semiconductor fabrication needs lots of power, and cheap power at that. The UK would struggle on most of those, Wales more so.

    2. myhandler

      Re: We have the answer!

      The perfect solution is to build them on the Antarctic.

      The heat from the fab will melt the ice and all that pure water will work beautifully.

      As the fab sinks slowly through the ice they can watch the ice strata going past.

  8. SnailFerrous

    ChatGPT, where should we build an AI wafer fab?

    AI models have already worked out that it makes sense to kill off the humans by dehydration as they expand. Relying on cyborgs with phased plasma rifles in the 40W range to do the job is so 1980's.

  9. s. pam Silver badge
    Headmaster

    it's not just water damnit!

    Many locales in Gilead (was: USA ) are also blocking new Bitcoin mines, etc due to their electrical grids not having enough capacity to handle the massive power draws.

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