WaferTech celebrates launch of new cooling system

Upgrade will increase energy efficiency, cost savings at Camas plant

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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WaferTech on Thursday celebrated a step forward in energy efficiency and cost savings, when it kicked off use of a decidedly low-tech system for cooling water used in its vast chip manufacturing process.

The cooling system launch was in the form of a lunchroom reception at the Taiwan-based company’s manufacturing plant in Camas, attended by local political and business officials, as well as staff from government agencies that helped finance the $1.6 million project. Company president KC Hsu thanked the project’s financial supporters including the federal government, the Bonneville Power Administration and Washington State University. He said the improvements further reduce the carbon footprint of a manufacturing plant that the company says already has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any semiconductor manufacturer in the world.

At a company that creates components for cell phones and other technically advanced projects, the cooling towers, separated from the fabrication plant by a stretch of asphalt, are simplicity itself. Water is piped into the two 33-foot towers at 65 degrees, where it is converted into a mist to speed the cooling process. The water is cooled to as low as 60 degrees, depending on weather conditions, and then sent to the electric-powered chillers for final cooling before being cycled back through the manufacturing process. The added step of using the cooling tower reduces the time needed for cooling in the chillers.

WaferTech, with 1,000 workers, expects to reduce its energy consumption by some $200,000 a year, saving about 4 million kilowatts of electricity annually. But that won’t make it an energy miser. The company spends about $8 million a year on electricity and another $2 million on natural gas, said facilities director Jim Short.

WaferTech contributed $352,000 to the project’s costs, and about $1 million came from an energy efficiency program funded through Bonneville Power Administration. WaferTech and local utility leaders said the public investment makes sense because it reduces the need for much more expensive increases in electrical system capacity.

“The net reduction in consumption benefits the public because it helps keep electricity rates down,” said Spencer W. Leese, WaferTech’s corporate attorney.

Less than 8 percent of funding came directly from taxpayers, he said, and the bulk came from utility-backed programs and other sources specifically dedicated to energy savings.