Green Chips

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Deep in the heart of Texas one of America's leading technology firms is just putting the final touches on one of the nation's greenest buildings. A new fabrication plant that produces the wafers used in semiconductors has been built for 30 percent less than an older plant constructed in the early 1990s. It also promises to deliver a 20 percent reduction in water use and a 35 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Texas Instruments executives were tempted to build overseas in China, Taiwan, or Singapore to take advantage of low wages, subsidies, and tax incentives. The world of semiconductors is not only cuttingedge technology, but also cutthroat competition where the smallest advantage can mean big profits. Before any decision was made on where to locate the plant, TI's design group had to come up with solid evidence that it could reduce not only the up-front capital costs of a new plant in the United States but also the lifetime operating expenses of the plant. A reduction in those costs would mean that the company could operate out of Richardson, Texas, and still remain competitive. It would also mean 1,000 new jobs for the area and benefits to the company from being located conveniently near the TI design facility rather than half-way around the world.

From the outside to the inside, the new plant has been redesigned to meet and even improve upon the standards set by TI executives. Every system was examined and rethought, from heating and cooling to air purification, from water reuse and recycling to natural lighting and no-fl ush urinals. On the outside the roof is a refl ective white, the parking lot is surfaced with a refl ective coating, and the landscaping consists of drought-resistant native plants with a rain-storage pond for irrigation.

This intensive examination of the facility led the designers to ask about the highly energy-intensive tools used to create the wafers for the semiconductors. For the first time, designers went to the tool manufacturers, asking for more energy-efficient tools that also produced less heat in an environment that must be kept at exact temperature and humidity levels for production purposes. Their requests led the tool manufacturer to rethink the existing tools. As a result a new generation of tools is now installed at the Richardson plant.

While green buildings have not always lived up to their billing, expectations are running sky-high at Texas Instruments and also at Amory Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute, which consulted on the design. The proof will come in the next year as the plant goes into operation. If expectations are met, it may be the beginning of a revolution that will power more efficient design and give American companies a new competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Dallas Morning News
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Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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