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Designing bad stuff out of tech isn't an easy thing to do

How much time does it take to design an environmentally questionable material OUT of a product? Recent news out of IBM provides some perspective on just how tricky this can be.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

How much time does it take to design an environmentally questionable material OUT of a product? Recent news out of IBM provides some perspective on just how tricky this can be.

Early in March, the technology giant said it has eliminated two compounds known to have adverse long-time impacts from its chip manufacturing program. Those two compounds are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (POA). The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the European Uniion began putting restrictions on PFOS and POA a few years back; they are commonly used for staining or as water repellent. They actually still are permitted for use in semiconductor manufacturing, although IBM says it choose back in 2005 to refrain from using them in new product development. It phased the compounds out of new manufacturing applications back in 2007. They were finally eliminated from photolithographic processes at IBM at the end of January 2010.

So, it took essentially five years to work on this. More perspective from Michael Cadigan, general manager of microlectronics at IBM: "Developing alternatives for these chemicals was an ambitious technological challenge. The transition to the new formulations had to be implemented and qualified across a large array of processes without impacting customer product delivery commitments. In addition, several companies in at least five countries have had access to this leadership solution through their technology development alliances with IBM."

I think this is illustrative of the patience and persistence it will take to shift to sustainable business processes. The good news is that if you pick the right development partners, you might get a bit of a kickstart.

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