Although the share price of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) has fallen significantly amid concerns over worldwide inflation, US billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway spent a massive US$4.1 billion on the chipmaker’s American depositary receipts.
Reporting on Buffett’s investment in TSMC, some Chinese-language media outlets have said that it would give the Taiwanese economy a shot in the arm.
Although TSMC has planted its flag in various countries around the world, Taiwan is still its most important base. The US invited TSMC to set up a plant in Arizona, because it was worried that its source of cutting-edge chips would dry up if China attacks Taiwan and TSMC’s domestic facilities are destroyed.
The US outshines Taiwan in terms of key equipment and materials for silicon wafer production, but even when TSMC’s US plants start mass production, they would still not be able to replace production in Taiwan.
TSMC founder Morris Chang (張忠謀) has said that Taiwan is the only place where TSMC can make such high-end chips.
There are many reasons for this, including Taiwan’s outstanding talent, technology and corporate culture. Moreover, a highly integrated supply chain formed by industrial clusters surrounding TSMC cannot be easily enticed to move away from Taiwan.
Another aspect that receives less attention is Taiwan’s circular economy. The semiconductor industry uses many chemicals, and because of the precision chipmaking requires, most of them, such as photoresists, etchants, phosphoric acid and hydrofluoric acid, cannot be reused. In contrast to the metal-processing industry, chipmakers can only use these chemicals for one round of processing.
There are many highly specialized businesses in Taiwan that process chipmakers’ waste chemicals and, after separation and purification, supply them for use in downstream industries.
Take the Hsinchu Science Park (新竹科學園區) as an example: There are recycling plants that serve its chip plants in Hsinchu County’s Hukou Townshhip (湖口) and Taoyuan’s Dayuan (大園) and Guanyin (觀音) districts, all within a radius of 100km of the park. Although these companies use conventional chemical industrial processes, the specific nature of their business and their deep familiarity with chipmaking waste materials make them an indispensable “venous industry” for the sustainable development of the semiconductor industry.
The Industrial Development Bureau certifies recycled chemicals’ environmental friendliness.
Taiwan’s resource-recycling industries enable its chipmakers to fully comply with the UN’s sustainable development goals. The nation has established a comprehensive audit and management system for the recovery and reuse of chemicals in the semiconductor industry. In terms of a circular economy manufacturing system, these advantages would be hard for any company to re-establish in another country after leaving Taiwan.
Taiwan’s success in this respect is something that could be worth sharing with other countries.
Chen Wen-ching is executive director of the Formosa Association of Resource Recycling.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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