iNEMI Modernizes its Life Cycle Eco-Impact Estimator for ICT Products
by by Tom Okrasinski (Nokia) and Fu Zhao (Purdue University) on April 5, 2021 3:29:28 PM EDT
ICT (information and communications technology) products are essential to modern society. They comprise a significant portion of the global economy, along with consuming large amounts of resources and energy during their manufacturing, use and disposal, and contributing to environmental impact. Their short life and the increasing demand for products worsens the scenario. Given the current climate change challenges, it is necessary for ICT manufacturers to reduce impact.
In any successful approach to reducing impact there needs to be a means to measure it and a method to follow. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the well-recognized methodology to assess environmental impacts through a product’s life, from raw material extraction to end of life. Performing a traditional LCA for ICT products is usually done using large-scale LCA software with expert resources, which tends to be time consuming and expensive.
Over the past decade, a simplified approach for estimating the environmental impact of ICT products has been developed and demonstrated by several iNEMI members from the ICT industry. The approach provides a means to more quickly and easily evaluate product concepts and to optimize design trade-offs. It uses simplified techniques and algorithms for estimating primarily global warming potential (GWP) in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents.
More recently, the key project objective for the iNEMI team has been to develop mechanisms for prioritizing and collecting relevant data from the supply chain. This is necessary to stay abreast of the rapid technological advancements within the ICT industry and ensure the accuracy and relevance of the estimator.
LCA estimator framework
The estimator is designed to evaluate a product consisting of individual equipment pieces. The product unit is attributed to a functional unit as defined by the product manufacturer. ICT products can be classified into distinct categories with common attributes that produce certain levels of environmental impact depending on their component makeup, assembly, usage and design life. These classifications are then sorted into component categories comprised of similar materials and manufacturing processes. Components are analyzed regarding their respective contributions to the environmental impacts associated with their manufacturing stages. Categorizing these ICT components offers a means of producing a concise list that can be analyzed for common environmental impact attributes, which can then be rationalized and modeled to derive their level of impact within an LCA estimator tool.
The major component/subassembly categories for ICT products include printed wiring boards, integrated circuits, and electro-mechanical assemblies such as cooling fans, metallic components, polymeric components and cables. GWP over a 100-year time horizon is the single environmental impact currently assessed in the estimator since this is one of the most evaluated environmental impact mid-point indicators.
Key parameters and metrics are defined for assessing the environmental impact of the component categories. They represent the significant environmental impact contributors based on the analyzed datasets, available from within the ICT industry such as integrated circuits, and from other industry sectors such as bulk metals and plastics. An associated set of algorithms can then be determined based on the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) data available for the key parameters of a given component category. Detailed LCA analyses conducted on ICT products have shown that bare printed wiring boards and large integrated circuits are the components that provide the greatest environmental impact.
LCA estimator improvement and modernization
The initial environmental impact LCA estimator was developed using a spreadsheet format and made available to iNEMI members starting in 2012. Some industry members further developed the estimator and created a web-based tool. This provided easier modularization of its component categories, a means to graphically view and configure a product’s hierarchy, and easy storage/retrieval of configured products and subassemblies for further usage in other product configurations or by other designers.
In 2019, the tool was transferred to Purdue University, as part of the most recent iNEMI LCA Estimator project team, and was made available for select iNEMI members and academic researchers. This regime also provides data security and storage. iNEMI’s intention is to eventually make the estimator openly available to the ICT industry and research institutions, thus offering a means to share the methodology and tool and provide data transparency. This will also enable more efficiency in continuous improvements of the estimator’s methodology, its component categories and environmental impact datasets.
As part of iNEMI’s ongoing efforts to advance the LCA estimator’s capabilities, recent work has improved the algorithms, datasets and methods for estimating environmental impact in areas including:
- Printed wiring boards – conventional and HDI type boards
- Integrated circuits – including flip chips, SOCs, stacked die arrays
- Metallic and polymeric materials – the basic materials employed in ICT cabinets and housings, structural components, cooling fans and cables
Updates to the PWB data mainly entailed inclusion of eco-impacts associated with contemporary PWB technologies, including conventional and high-density interface (HDI) PWB manufacture. This included leveraging the recent eco-impact assessments done by the HDP User Group International  which offered contemporary eco-impact data for PWB manufacturing.
Research on what constitutes eco-impact for integrated circuits (ICs) has resulted in improvements in IC LCA over the past decade, and includes publications by Sarah Boyd , Anders Andrae [3,4], and Donald Kline, Jr. [5,6]. Kline’s work provides the energy consumption and GWP impact for a range of IC manufacturing technology nodes per square millimeter of silicon die production. This data was combined with other IC packaging eco-impact data, and subsequently integrated into the iNEMI eco-impact LCA estimator tool.
The resulting updates by the iNEMI project team provide a robust tool that offers users quick analysis of an ICT product along with full transparency to its data sources and calculations. A view of the tool’s summary screen for a sample ICT product assessment is shown in Figure 1. This current version of the estimator offers significant benefits in providing a combined database-driven tool for enhanced use. A longer-term goal is to continue to evaluate newly available data for ICT components manufacturing techniques as they become available.
iNEMI will review results from the Eco-Impact Estimator project in an end-of-project webinar on April 27 and 28. Two sessions are planned and are open to industry. For additional information.
Figure 1. Summary screen for a sample ICT product
assessment using iNEMI’s eco-impact estimator tool.
assessment using iNEMI’s eco-impact estimator tool.
The iNEMI LCA estimator tool is currently available to iNEMI members. Our goal is to make the LCA estimator methodology, data and tool openly available to the ICT industry and research institutions in a “hosted” environment with collaborative industry/academic governance. This will promote enhanced efficiency in continuous improvements of the estimator’s methodology, its component categories and environmental impact datasets. By enabling simpler techniques and methodologies for assessing eco-impact, our hope is this will increase adoption and alignment in the industry, which in turn will lead to further reducing the eco-impact of the products we develop.
- Erkko Helminen, Elsa Olivetti, Tom Okrasinski, Larry Marcanti. ”Environmental Impact of High Density Interconnect Printed Boards as a Function of Design Parameters.” 2017 IMAPS Nordic Conference on Microelectronics Packaging (NORDPAC), Göteborg, Sweden, June 18-20, 2017. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7993176
- Sarah B. Boyd, Arpad Horvath, David Dornfeld. “Life-Cycle Energy Demand and Global Warming Potential of Computational Logic.” Environmental Science Technology, September 3, 2009.
- Anders S.G. Andrae, Otto Andersen. “Life cycle assessment of integrated circuit packaging technologies.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, March 2011.
- Anders S.G. Andrae, Mikko Samuli Vaija. “Precision of a Streamlined Life Cycle Assessment Approach Used in Eco-Rating of Mobile Phones.” Challenges, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-24, August 2017.
- Donald Kline, Jr., Nikolas Parshooka, Xiaoyu Ge, Erik Brunvand, Rami Melhem, Panos K. Chrysanthis, Alex K. Jones. “GreenChip: A tool for evaluating holistic sustainability of modern computing systems.” Elsevier, October 16, 2017.
- Donald Kline, Jr., Nikolas Parshook, Alex Johnson, James E. Stine, William Stanchina, Erik Brunvand, Alex K. Jones. “Sustainable IC Design and Fabrication.” IEEE, 978-1-5386-3470-7/17/; 2017.