Intel Secures LEED Silver, Bets on Algae

Intel is the first semiconductor or industrial technology company to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for a manufacturing complex. As a result of Intel’s long history of energy conservation, its Ocotillo, Arizona site was awarded the silver LEED certification without any substantial building improvements or modifications. Intel’s premier manufacturing campus houses 14 buildings totaling over four million square feet and is home to more than 4,700 employees.

The Ocotillo campus:

  • Used 26 percent less energy than comparable semiconductor complexes.
  • Erected solar electricity support structures in the parking lot in 2010. It is one of nine solar electric installations Intel implemented in four U.S. states and Israel. Each is among the ten largest in its region.
  • Recycled 90 percent of its solid waste in 2010 (more than 10,000 tons).
  • Conserved 66 percent of its site wide water, saving approximately 5 million gallons of fresh water each day.
  • Retained 100 percent of captured storm water on-site.
  • Partnered with the City of Chandler to divert non-potable water from the city’s waste water plant to the complex to use for 100 percent of the irrigation water and 95 percent of the cooling tower water.

Intel has made a commitment to make LEED silver certification the baseline requirement of all new building design. In addition, the company continues to upgrade existing facilities. Intel’s senior environmental engineer and LEED program manager, Taimur Burki, explains why this certification is so important to Intel, “Because it’s proving that throughout the entire manufacturing process…that we’ve been doing the right thing – before there even was a green standard.”

The Future is Green (Algae)
Intel’s engineers continually look for new ways to conserve energy and lower emissions. A team at the Ocotillo plant had the idea that the carbon dioxide emissions from the boilers at the plant could be harnessed to grow algae that can be converted into clean-burning biofuel.

One Intel employee, Brad Biddle, took a particular interest in the project. A member of Intel’s legal department, he utilized Intel’s Sustainability in Action program to participate in the algae experiment. Intel’s Sustainability in Action program allows employees to submit project ideas for funding in order to share Intel’s innovation in environmental sustainability with other communities across the globe.

The Ocotillo team partnered with Arizona State University’s (ASU) Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology (LARB) and created a small pilot model on the roof of the plant. Biddle says that Intel brought vision, a willingness to experiment, infrastructure and logistics support, while ASU built the bioreactors, managed the algae growth and lead data collection efforts. “This project couldn’t have been done without them,” Biddle said.

The model captured boiler emissions which fed the algae until the bioreactors were at maximum capacity. The crop was then harvested and the reactors are now ready for the next crop. Biddle says that the plan going forward is to do continual harvesting – harvesting a portion of the algae, letting it grow back, and repeating in an ongoing cycle. This is the process Intel plans to use when the project is expanded to a larger scale.

It takes a large amount of algae create a substantial amount of fuel. Although the first crop of algae would only generate a tiny amount of biofuel, Biddle is hopeful that the process will continue to grow. “We plan to show vehicles driving on biodiesel made from our algae.”

When it reaches a larger scale, this recycling solution could have a big impact on reducing the carbon emissions of the plant. By generating a clean-burning alternative fuel, the process would also offset burning fossil fuels from the Intel boilers.

Biddle is pleased with the initial results. “The idea was … is it possible to grow algae using the CO2 from the boiler stacks and, if yes, how would it be counted for a regulatory purpose?” The initial proof-of-concept project was successful, so the next phase will dissect and document the process. During this next round, the team will concentrate on measuring the carbon captured in the process, determining if it can be implemented on a larger scale and how it can be recognized by regulatory agencies.

As the teams make new discoveries and expand on their pilot project, the research results will be available to other organizations to follow in their footsteps.  Biddle said, “From the beginning, our goal for this project has been to be highly open and highly collaborative. We want to openly share what we learn, with a focus on trying to drive broad global benefits.”

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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