NXP's CTO on Green Chips

I’ve written before about the chip industry’s efforts to cut back on power consumption through a creative redesign of some of their chips. For the last ten years NXP, which was once part of consumer products company Philips has offered a line of semiconductors designed to cut power consumption in the end device. The GreenChips are now found in computers, laptops, PCs and cars. I spoke with René Penning de Vries, an SVP and chief technology officer of NXP about the business of designing energy efficient gadgets:

Earth2Tech: Why think about designing chips that enable energy efficient features?

de Vries: Even with changes made in materials and design, the biggest impact is not in the manufacturing of the chips. The biggest impact is conserving energy in the end applications. Be it laptops, cars or televisions. So that’s where we have focused quite a bit. We estimate that we have made in impact of a gigawatt annually. A desktop consumes about 300 watts, so if you can halve that on hundreds and millions of machines that adds up to significant savings.

E2T: Can you sell a “green” chip at a premium to similar chips?

de Vries: Certainly. Energy efficiency is going to be an argument in a sales position and that is true for business-to-business and for the consumers. The more energy efficient something is the more value it adds. It’s good business for us to be green.

E2T: Is this a design strategy for the entire world or only developed countries?

de Vries: We sell into any market because the relevance of this problem is the same everywhere in the world. We enjoy a growth in the emerging and developed markets.

E2T: What about other chipmaker’s efforts to greenwash their business or focus on low power chips?

de Vries: We are not unique in this initiative but we started this 10 years ago and that reflects a maturity of the solution and a long, continued effort in R&D. Manufacturing and the end of life part is almost a given in the chip industry. When it comes to being energy conscious internally and measuring the energy needed to produce a chip, that has been reduced by a factor of five over the last couple of years. But it’s the actual use of the silicon in the application that can have the biggest impact.

E2T: What are the next products that might benefit from a Green chip?

de Vries: We’re looking at an electronic road whereby we use a telephone module and GPS module to control road signs and traffic consistency to make traffic flow smoothly. In the automotive domain we’re working with tier one vendors in Germany, which is a fashion center for the automotive world

Today a car is an individual entity but it will be networked somehow. All these cars will be connected much like a computer is connected to another computer, and that is a big opportunity for an environmental impact

E2T: It sounds like an effort that requires far more cooperation from manufacturers, chip firms and even governments. Are NXP and other industries ready to create the kind of partnerships needed to make such a vision a reality?

The systems are very complex and it has to do with the chipmakers and regulatory bodies, so it has to be done in ecosystem that has an interest in such a development. These things don’t come overnight, but everything in the entire world will be connected and open. The challenge is to create systems that are open and that add value to the whole infrastructure. Open in that the interfaces are well known, and others can build applications around them.

E2T: So a chipmaker can change the world?

de Vries: The story is we see that if we want to apply our semiconductor technology smartly it requires a understanding of the bigger systems where that prodct is to end up in, be it an OEM or in a regulatory environment. It’s only through that where you can make a significant impact, and that is what we’re trying to do.