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“Neuralgic technological centers are now threatened by the lack of water”

HASwhen an episode of historic drought hits France, with major consequences for the agricultural sector, and, in some municipalities, for water for domestic use, fortunately France does not experience the impact of water stress on its high-tech and industrial enterprises. Elsewhere in the world, however, the situation is quite different.

Neuralgic technological hubs are now threatened by the lack of water. The city of Monterrey (Mexico), which borders Texas, has thus been experiencing shortages and rationing for several weeks with a strong impact on its 5.3 million inhabitants, but also on the industrial and technological companies located there, lacking of water for their manufacturing process. The situation has become so sensitive that the Mexican government has announced that the lack of rain in Monterrey poses a national security problem.

This situation is reminiscent of the chronic lack of water that now affects Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. Similarly, Taiwan, which concentrates the world’s production of microchips, essential to the operation of cell phones, cars and military equipment, experiences a worrying lack of rainfall in the summer during the typhoon season, which normally provides it with the major part of its water reserves. On the island, the scarcity of water is thus becoming a structuring problem caused by climate change, risking to cause a drop in the production capacities of this strategic activity, embodied by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which owns 92% of the world market.

Vulnerability element

Manufacturing chips indeed requires the use of ultrapure water, generally produced from a public supply network. To provide 1 cubic meter of water 1,000 times purer than tap water, 1.4 to 1.6 cubic meters of water are needed. In addition, the water distributed in the factory is also used to cool equipment and server centers, which make it possible to burn 2-nanometer chips, making the richness and specificity of this very high-tech activity.

Water availability is thus to be considered as a manifest element of vulnerability for the semiconductor business, of such crucial importance for the global economy. In this context, it is therefore surprising to see that the Biden administration intends to make Arizona a new global hub for this technology.

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