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The semiconductor industry has a problem. Demand is booming for silicon chips, which are embedded in everything from smartphones and televisions to wind turbines, but it comes at a big cost: a huge carbon footprint.

The industry presents a paradox. Meeting global climate goals will, in part, rely on semiconductors. They’re integral to electric vehicles, solar arrays and wind turbines. But chip manufacturing also contributes to the climate crisis. It requires huge amounts of energy and water – a chip fabrication plant, or fab, can use millions of gallons of water a day – and creates hazardous waste.

As the semiconductor industry finds itself increasingly under the spotlight, it is starting to grapple with its climate impacts. Last week Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest chipmaker, which supplies chips to Apple, pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The company aims to “broaden our green influence and drive the industry towards low-carbon sustainability”, said the TSMC chairman, Mark Lui.

But decarbonizing the industry will be a big challenge.

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Complex carbon-bearing molecules that could help explain how life got started have been identified in space for the first time.

These molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, consist of several linked hexagonal rings of carbon with hydrogen atoms at the edges. Astronomers have suspected for decades that these molecules are abundant in space, but none had been directly spotted before.

Simpler molecules with a single ring of carbon have been seen before. But “we’re now excited to see that we’re able to detect these larger PAHs for the first time in space,” says astrochemist Brett McGuire of MIT, whose team reports the discovery in the March 19 Science.

Studying these molecules and others like them could help scientists understand how the chemical precursors to life might get started in space. “Carbon is such a fundamental part of chemical reactions, especially reactions leading to life’s essential molecules,” McGuire says. “This is our window into a huge reservoir of them.”

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