Our commitment to Environmental Health and Safety – Part 3

Find out more about the management of air emissions at the Intel campus


  • July 30, 2020

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Intel is committed to caring for our people and the planet by integrating design for the environment and safety principles into all aspects of our business; from the development of our products, through our supply chain and manufacturing.

Ronan Kearney

Intel is committed to caring for our people and the planet by integrating design for the environment and safety principles into all aspects of our business; from the development of our products, through our supply chain and manufacturing.

The Intel campus in Leixlip is home to facilities where we manufacture computer chips. The process of making computer chips is called fabrication and the factories where chips are made are called fabrication facilities, or ‘fabs’. Intel’s fabs are amongst the most technically advanced manufacturing facilities in the world. We use a photolithographic “printing” process to build a chip layer by layer on circular discs or ‘wafers’ made of silicon. Many layers are deposited across the wafer and then removed in small areas to create transistors and interconnects. The stages involved in creating these layers rely largely on chemical and electronic processes. Our manufacturing operations are underpinned by rigorous environmental management systems to protect the environment.

Central to these systems is our Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) team who oversee all aspects of safety and environmental management at our campus here in Leixlip. From compliance with licences and regulations to innovative programs that provide safeguards for the workplace and the wider community, the team have an uncompromising commitment to safety and environmental excellence.

The EHS team includes a number of environmental engineers who have a variety of responsibilities at the campus. As part of this series we meet some of our EHS team and find out more about their roles. This week we caught up with Ronan Kearney. Ronan is originally from County Mayo but has lived in Dublin since he went to UCD to study Chemical Engineering in 2004. Ronan has worked with Intel at the Leixlip site for the last 9 years, initially as a contracted Environmental Consultant and then in 2015 he joined Intel directly as an Environmental Engineer in the EHS Department where he remains to this day. In addition to a Chemical Engineering degree, Ronan has a Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Engineering from Trinity College Dublin.

Ronan explains his role in the management of air emissions at the Intel campus.

“Most of the work that I focus on is driven by our Industrial Emissions Licence which is granted to us by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This sets out our environmental framework and the specific requirements that we are required to meet onsite. We have established an Environmental Management System and an Energy Management System which are independently certified to the International ISO 140001 and ISO50001 standards respectively. These systems enable us to manage the many aspects of our environmental programs and to achieve continuous improvement of our environmental performance.

Our manufacturing process, which we undertake in Leixlip, is one which involves a series of complex production steps. For air in particular, some of these steps result in gaseous emissions being generated. Emissions are something that we manage very stringently, and we continuously pursue new ways to reduce these emissions through abatement, energy conservation, renewable energy use, efficient building design, and other efforts.

Gaseous emission from the manufacturing process are segregated dependent on their nature and are treated in various different ways, for example, through specialised abatement or treatment systems such as wet scrubbers and thermal oxidisers.

The abatement systems are operated and maintained by the Corporate Services engineering team. There are various system controls in place to ensure that these systems are operating effectively and efficiently at all times. Our role within the environmental team is to monitor the emissions from these systems and to ensure that our emissions are less than the licence limits. This also allows us to identify opportunities for continuous improvement of environmental performance.

The most visible emission from the Intel campus is actually water vapour from our cooling towers. The manufacturing process in our fab generates a significant amount of heat that is extracted. We reuse as much of that heat as we can through heat recovery chillers which are used to heat other parts of the office and factory environment, therefore maximizing reuse of this heat and minimising boiler usage. We do, however, have to release a certain amount of waste heat in the form of water vapour, which is what can sometimes be seen in the air over the site, particularly on a cold morning. Water vapour, which is not harmful, is released all of the time but on warm day it remains invisible as water vapour, whereas on a cold day the vapour is rapidly cooled causing it to condense therefore becoming more visible.

In my role, my day-to-day responsibilities include making sure that we conduct all the required monitoring on our various systems. I then review and validate the data to ensure we understand our emissions and that we are maintaining compliance with our licence limits.

Some of the issues that I might encounter could be, for example, an automated early warning alert that may indicate an issue with our continuous monitoring systems. These alarms are responded to by our on-site technicians who ensure the issue is addressed as soon as possible. The system engineers and I will then investigate the root cause of the issue and determine how future occurrences can be avoided, thereby continuously improving our systems.

We operate so far below our licence limits in most cases that even if we detect a small rise in emissions, we have an opportunity to investigate and address any underlying issue long before it leads to an environmental impact.

We engage with the EPA regularly as they complete both scheduled and unannounced inspections at the site. The EPA also independently monitor our emissions to ensure we are compliant.

In March each year we produce an Annual Environmental Report which summarises our environmental performance for the previous year. This report is submitted to the EPA and is also available online”.

Further information regarding air emissions from the site is available through our Explore Intel online portal where people can see data about our environmental performance.

Check out the other installments of our Environmental Health and Safety series;

Part 1 – Michael Cullen explains the role of the Environmental Health and Safety team

Part 2 – Kevin Moloney explains the management of water systems at Intel