IBM used to throw away up to 3 million silicon chips a year, but no more. The engineers at the Burlington, Vermont facility have found a way to scrub the ultra-pure silicon from the chips in an environmentally friendly manner and either reuse them or sell the chips to photovoltaic companies to use in solar cells.
The solar industry has been stymied somewhat in recent years by the rising costs of silicon. IBM has been selling its recycled silicon chips to companies like ReneSola, who buy them for a quarter of the cost of new silicon wafers. A little additional work does have to be completed in order to further refine the silicon for use in the solar wafers, but the price is right says the Chinese photovoltaic manufacturer.
IBM has enough recycled chips to power about 6,000 solar homes per year. The new IBM process uses water, an abrasive pad and friction to scrub wafers in a way that doesn’t use chemical solvents. This process also saves the company about $1.5 million per year, so recycling is paying off big time for Big Blue.
While many big business are doing their part of recycle in a high tech manner, consumers at the grassroots level can also recycle at a low tech level as well. One way to do this is to check out Freecycle.org that let’s people in the same communities give each other free items rather than sending them to the landfills.