RIO RANCHO — Computer chip maker Intel plans to pay one of New Mexico’s largest water utilities $32 million to build a pipeline to supply its factory with the much-needed resource.
Millions of gallons are needed at the plant in Rio Rancho each day to produce tiny semiconductors, and demands will likely increase as part of a $3.5 billion retrofit that will boost production capacity of Intel’s chip-packaging technology, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The 6-mile pipeline will connect two wells on the northwest edge of Albuquerque to the plant. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority says construction is expected to begin in April.
Linda Qian, spokeswoman for Intel New Mexico, said the company plans to filter non-potable groundwater onsite into “ultrapure water.”
“We use that ultrapure water to clean the surface of the silicon wafer,” Qian said. “If you think of the chip process as building layers on top of a wafer, in between each of those layers, you rinse with ultrapure water.”
When the 200-acre site opened, Qian said, manufacturing demanded about 2 gallons of fresh water to produce 1 gallons of ultrapure water. Now, the ratio is about 1 to 1.
Intel estimates demand at the expanded plant could be 1 million to 3 million gallons of water a day.
Intel also uses water for cooling towers, industrial equipment and landscaping.
Qian said most of the water is used, recycled, used again, treated and then discharged.
Company data show that Intel in 2020 pumped more than 756 million gallons of groundwater for its New Mexico plant. The company treated and discharged about 705 million gallons back into the municipal system.
Intel has a goal of restoring more water than it uses by 2030.