There is plenty of waste in industrial processes, and the world of computer manufacturing is no exception. A prime example of this are the silicon wafers used as starting materials for the production of chips by the computing industry. Every year, roughly 3.3 million silicon wafers are sent to landfills across the world to be crushed. Of course where some see waste, others see opportunity — such as IBM, who just announced a new process to turn these silicon wafersinto solar panels.

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A silicon wafer is a thin disc of silicon material where patterns that make the chips for most of our electrical devices are printed upon. While most of these wafers are used, a percentage of them become damaged, or are simply excess silicon and are turned into waste. As these wafers contain the manufacturer’s intelectual property, they cannot be reused or recycled. That is, until IBM came to the rescue.

What this process does is remove the remnants of the intellectual property from the wafers surface. This allows the wafers to be reused, or ideally, turned into solar panels. The process has been deemed innovative enough to be awarded the “2007 Most Valuable Pollution Prevention Award” from The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR).

Will this process make solar panels any cheaper? Probably Not. But what it will do is provide more raw material to the solar industry, which is finding its main component, silicon, to be in shortage due to the demands being put forward by other industries.

“IBM’s commitment to environmental conservation spans its business, from the re-purposing of materials used in semiconductor manufacturing to enabling customers to manage, measure, and run the most power efficient datacenters on the planet,” said Mike Cadigan, general manager, IBM Semiconductor Solutions. “The engineering ingenuity that IBM has demonstrated in pioneering the wafer-to-solar panel program has generated countless other conservation initiatives in our manufacturing operations.”