Water reuse Asia Water storage

Water reuse: a saviour for Taiwan’s semiconductor sector?

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Semiconductor powerhouse Taiwan is turning to water reuse to help quench its industry’s thirst. An MoU between the government and a major manufacturer could accelerate progress.

Quenching a semiconductor giant’s thirst

Taiwan is at a crossroads when it comes to water management.

The country is one of the biggest semiconductor manufacturers in the world. Responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s most advanced computer chips, this accounts for a big percentage of Taiwan’s economy.

Yet, this success is also onereason the country is facing a water crisis. The industry consumes a large proportion of water, a resource that is also majorly impacted by the impacts of climate change.

According to the Central Water Bureau, Taiwan has an average of three to four typhoons on the island every year – extreme events that alone can meet about half of Taiwan’s annual water needs.

Yet, in 2021, not a single typhoon occurred for the first time since 1964.

“Out of 19 of the country's major reservoirs, 17 were at less than 50 per cent capacity.”

Combined with limited rainfall that year, Taiwan experienced its worst drought in more than half a century. To provide context: out of 19 of the country's major reservoirs, 17 were at less than 50 per cent capacity.

At the Baoshan No. 2 Reservoir in Hsinchu County, water levels dropped as low as seven per cent. As a result, officials were forced to limit water usage across all industries.

Given the significance of the challenges, Taiwan has been investigating how reusing municipal wastewater could help to feed its very thirsty industry.

Ramping up water reuse efforts

Under a national directive, Taiwan’s reuse ambitions are for a combined capacity of 334,000 m3/day by 2026, costing around TWD17 billion ($573 million). Recently, the country’s central authority signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build and operate a 30,000 m3/day reuse project in Ciaotou.

The MOU, signed with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is laying the foundations for a build-transfer-operate tender with a total investment of around TWD5 billion ($169 million).

“Under a national directive, Taiwan’s reuse ambitions are for a combined capacity of 334,000 m3/day by 2026.”

This new agreement will see treated municipal wastewater feed TSMC’s 12-inch wafer plant in Nanzih Industrial Park, with the plant’s total water demand of 118,000 m3/day being fully supplied by reclaimed water by 2028.

Back in 2016, Taiwan embarked on a multi-billion-dollar budget to start reclaiming wastewater on a large scale to provide 10 per cent of its supply by 2030.

Aside to the semiconductor industry, other water challenges remain in the country. Water leakage in the distribution networks accounts for 14 per cent water loss.

Furthermore, deforestation has also played a role in soil runoff during precipitation, leading to sediment build-up in reservoirs. This in turn reduces reservoirs’ capacity to collect more water during rainy periods for use in drier or drought conditions.

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