Water in the Silicon Forest

Do you have any idea how much virtual water is embodied in your computer? A lot! Your morning shower might use about 17 gallons, but manufacturing a computer requires more than 400 times that amount — as much as 7300 gallons. Computer manufacturing is an incredibly thirsty business — all of those silicon wafers that make up the core of your computer are rinsed over and over again during the assembly process. And ordinary water won’t do — computer manufacturing requires “ultra-pure water” (“UPW”) that won’t leave behind any residue or contaminants of any kind. In fact, UPW is so clean that it would be dangerous to drink much of it because the pure water would leach minerals out of your body.

In Oregon’s Silicon Forest, high water demand — with its attached expensive price tag — is spurring some water conservation efforts. Intel is working on a water recycling project that could save a billion gallons of water every year. The incentive for Intel and other chip manufacturers to re-use water is considerable. Intel is Hillsboro’s largest water consumer, using an average of two billion gallons annually in recent years. That amounts to almost a third of Hillsboro’s total water consumption and cost Intel about $6.7 million dollars last year. For Intel, saving water will mean saving money. So next time you see the “Intel Inside” sticker on a new computer, you can imagine a little less water hiding behind the logo.