Fraunhofer IZM: More sustainability in ICT through microelectronic research and development

November 3, 2023 Information and communication technology (ICT) is the basis for many major future markets such as artificial intelligence (AI), new mobility and smart homes. However, the growing importance of the industry is also accompanied by increased CO2 emissions. In a new study, the experts at the “Green ICT @ FMD” competence center have drawn up forecasts for the future climate impact of ICT in the application areas of data centers, telecommunications and households.

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Development of the carbon footprint of ICT production and use in Germany from 2013 to 2033. graphic: Fraunhofer IZM

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Much of our digital world is determined by ICT – information and communications technology – which permeates our everyday and working lives: from smartphones and smart home applications to special sensor systems for the Internet of Things (IoT). Such technologies enrich and simplify our lives. At the same time, however, demand is also increasing, and with it data and energy consumption. This means that ICT products have a major impact on the environment, both in terms of their use and their manufacture. In order to identify the possible savings potential in the production and use of ICT components more precisely, “Green ICT @ FMD”, the competence center for resource-conscious ICT funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is working on a study that takes a look at the entirety of ICT in Germany.

“Green ICT @ FMD” provides initial insights into future ICT savings potential

In the study, the experts led by Dr. Nils F. Nissen from Fraunhofer IZM come to the conclusion that the absolute CO2-equivalent emissions from ICT use will increase to around 20 million tons by 2030. Depending on the development of total emissions, these could account for four percent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated in Germany in 2030.

In the study “Carbon Footprint of ICT in Germany”, the scientists specifically examined the emissions of CO2 equivalents on the basis of determined inventory figures and the energy consumption of the use and production of ICT in Germany. They also calculated how future market developments will most likely determine the number of devices in each year of the forecast. Using product data on power consumption together with a defined usage pattern, the electricity consumption of individual products is calculated for each year of use. Assuming a certain CO2 emission factor for the electricity mix, the CO2 intensity of ICT in the usage phase was then calculated. Together with the CO2 balance from product manufacture, this results in the total emissions of a product category. In order to determine the overall balance, an extrapolation is made using the annually determined inventory figures and the specific environmental data from the consideration of the manufacturing and usage phases. This also takes into account technological developments in the environmental data.

The initial results of the study show a significant increase in electricity consumption after 2020 – driven by the higher volume of data in telecommunications networks and the increasing number and capacity utilization of data centers. In the household sector, the experts at the Competence Center are forecasting a slight increase in consumption, following a significant decline until around 2019. In 2030, over 30 million tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases will be produced in the aforementioned fields of application – telecommunications, data centers and households – which is around 50 percent more than in 2021. The production of the ICT examined will account for around one third of the emissions with just under 11 million tons of CO2 equivalents, while around two thirds of the emissions will be generated during the use phase. The study is to be expanded in the future to include further products from the application areas of trade, commerce and services as well as building automation and IoT.

Green ICT innovations help the climate and Germany as a business location

The Green ICT @ FMD competence center focuses on evaluating and subsequently improving the resource consumption of sensor edge cloud systems, energy-saving communication infrastructures and resource-optimized electronics production processes. In addition to the central data processing infrastructures (cloud), modern networked ICT systems have increasing capacities for data collection and processing at the edge of the network. This opens up more opportunities for optimizing data processing and transmission processes between the cloud and the edge, thereby minimizing the consumption of resources when using ICT. The researchers see further potential for savings in the development of high-performance networks such as 5G and 6G, but above all in the greenhouse gas emissions that occur during the production of microelectronic components.

In addition, direct support as the first point of contact for SMEs and start-ups, the training and further education of specialists and the close networking of all relevant stakeholders play a central role in the work of the competence center. Examples of this broad range of services include the “Green ICT Space”, an accelerator for sustainable start-ups and SMEs, the “Green ICT Award” for outstanding theses in the field of sustainable ICT and the “Green ICT Connect” networking event.

With future forecasts, intensive research and development at a technological level and accompanying activities, the Competence Center thus addresses the key areas that are needed for a sustainable future for ICT in Germany.

About the Research Fab Microelectronics Germany

The Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD), a cooperation between the Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics and the Leibniz Institutes FBH and IHP, is the central point of contact for all issues relating to microelectronics and nanoelectronics in Germany and Europe. As a one-stop store, FMD has been combining scientifically excellent technologies and system solutions from its 13 cooperating institutes from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and Leibniz Association into a customer-specific overall offering since 2017. Under the virtual umbrella of FMD, the largest association of its kind in Europe has been created, with more than 4,500 employees and a unique diversity of expertise and infrastructure. From 2017 to 2021, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research supported the modernization of the research infrastructure of all 13 participating institutes.

Further links

👉 www.izm.fraunhofer.de 

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