Merck challenge tackles green solutions for semiconductor and biotech industries

Merck launches a Climate Solutions Prize Startup Challenge in search for greener materials, packaging, and supply chains solutions 

Many corporations, particularly those based in Europe, are looking for innovations that could potentially help reduce their carbon footprint or seize the business opportunities presented by new environmental regulations, investor sentiment, and consumer demands.

Merck is active in both the semiconductor and biotech industries—two industries that play a pivotal role in advancing the climate tech conversation.

The semiconductor industry is at the heart of the climate challenge. Global sustainability goals rely in part on the use of semiconductors in electric vehicles, solar arrays, and wind turbines. However, the chip manufacturing process itself is a huge consumer of materials, energy and water so there is room to dramatically improve the overall sustainability of an industry that is driving gains in so many other fields.

As the worldwide demand for semiconductors continues to grow, the industry needs increasing amounts of ultrapure water. This water, used to physically wash the surface of silicon wafers to remove process contamination, has become a vital part of manufacturing an integrated circuit.

The life science industry is also being examined under the microscope when it comes to the environmental impact of their processes and practices. The pharmaceutical industry produces greenhouse gasses at a rate 13% higher than that of the automotive sector despite being a smaller sector.[1]

The conversation around sustainability in pharma has never been more prevalent, with governments tightening environmental regulations and clients demanding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve disposal of waste products, and lessen water pollution levels.

Tackling these high-volume manufacturing challenges takes time and careful management of change in highly regulated (the case of pharma) or highly optimized (in the case of semi) processes.  But there are many impactful changes that can be made across the supply chain as we work towards these bigger goals 

A few examples are detailed below:

Next-Gen Colloidal Silica

  • What it Counters: Conventional use of colloidal silica in chip manufacturing
  • Merck’s Alternative: Next-generation colloidal silica products that use at least 30% less colloidal silica, reducing the volume of product needed, which in turn shrinks the environmental footprint.

Greener solvents

  • What it Counters: Use of conventional solvents NMP and DMF, which are classified as toxic to reproduction.
  • Merck’s Alternative: Bio-based solvents derived from non-food, renewable resources, making them more environmentally sustainable.

Sustainable Functional Fillers for Cosmetics:

  • What it Counters: Use of microplastics in cosmetics products as emulsifying agents or fillers, which are highly resistant to environmental biodegradation and are not completely filtered out by wastewater treatment plants, posing a toxicological risk to marine life.
  • Merck’s Alternative: Effective and scientifically proven portfolio of functional fillers based on environmentally friendly mineral ingredients that deliver a variety of cosmetic properties.

Filtration Unit Design

What it Counters: The need for a disposable filler funnel and receiver bottle, which requires plastics and packaging.

  • Merck’s Alternative: By creating a way to thread a sample directly onto any commercial media bottle or glass bottle, their products significantly reduce the amount of plastic used by up to 48% and the amount and size of plastic and corrugated packaging by up to 69%.

Merck’s deep commitment to sustainability has brought them to partner with us as a Climate Solutions Prize Startup Challenge Leader.

As part of the Climate Solutions Prize, Merck launched a unique Startup Challenge to identify additional solutions to help it meet sustainability targets.

Robert Even, Business Development Manager at M Ventures, Merck’s corporate venture fund: “The innovation that we are looking for via the Climate Solutions Prize relates to some of the most pressing sustainability challenges that our corporation is facing. We are looking to engage with the companies and innovators that can offer relevant solutions to these challenges.”

In December 2021 Merck expanded M Ventures with an additional €600M to be deployed over the next five years to further its investments in various areas, one of which includes sustainability. This presents a huge opportunity for the Israeli ecosystem that can offer relevant solutions.

The Merck Challenge calls on companies with solutions to improve the sustainability of its research and biotech production and semiconductor production, including in:

  • Green Chemistry

Solutions: Greener solvents, surfactants, and other materials, new compounds that replace REACH-affected chemicals, sustainable alternatives for “forever chemicals” (e.g., per-fluorinated compounds), and bio-privileged molecules.

  • Sustainable Supply Chains

Solutions: Tier 1, 2, and 3 supplier transparency, Scope 1, 2, 3 emissions reduction, and blockchain-based chain of custody (CoC).

  • Plastic Degradation

Solutions: Biological, enzymatic, and microbial degradation, chemical degradation, and physical degradation

  • Sustainable Packaging

Solutions: Isolation packaging, chemical packaging, regulated pharma packaging, plastic alternatives such as biodegradable, bio-based, renewable, by-product-based, and recycled.

  • Sustainable Semiconductor Production

Solutions: Energy efficiency at multiple levels: tooling, manufacturing, and supply chain, water sustainability technologies to enable increased manufacturing process efficiencies, reclamation, reuse, and restoration in industrial treatment centers, material usage and sustainability, including alternative chemistries for wafer processing, materials recycling, and waste stream abatement

The Challenge winner will receive a cash prize of $40,000 USD granted by the Climate Solutions Prize. Applications are open until May 25.

Click here to apply.

This post was co-authored by Robert Even, Business Development Manager at M Ventures and Chanel Itzhaki Ganor, Marketing Manager at Start-Up Nation Central

[1] SEC Life Sciences, “How can the life science industry be more environmentally friendly?”

[2] Merck Sustainability Report 2020 (Page 60)

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