PC Sustainability: Lifecycle, Carbon Emissions, and Second Life | Intel Technology
(introductory music) - [Instructor] You are watching InTechnology a video cast where you can get smarter about cybersecurity, sustainability, and technology. Here are your hosts, Tom Garrison and Camille Morhardt. - Hi, and welcome to the InTechnology Podcast, I'm your host, Tom Garrison with me is my co-host Camille Morhardt. And today we have Gokul Subramaniam.
He's the Vice President and General Manager of Intel Client Platforms and Systems and the Client Sustainability Executive Sponsor. He has over 20 years of experience in technology, engineering, and product development. He's driving strategic engineering on sustainability, building modular and low carbon footprint computing devices with technology innovations. So welcome to the podcast Gokul. - Hey Tom, thanks.
Great to be here and look forward to our discussion. - This isn't just about what Intel per se is doing but kind of the industry in general. So I think it's important to understand like where are the fruitful parts of going after engineering around sustainability when you think about a PC client device like a laptop or a desktop? - It spans across the entire lifecycle like you would for any product that you build across manufacturing.
When you build the PC itself how much carbon emission are you really impacting? And then it goes into the operational side when the user starts using the PC, how much of power and energy efficiencies that they are really impacted by when they have their active usages on the PC. And the last one is, as they use the PC and get nearer towards the end of life, what happens to the piece of equipment and what are the things that can be done to revive, reuse, repair it before it hits the recycle yard. So it expands across the entire lifecycle and that's what it means for the personal computing device. - Well, which of those three areas within the lifecycle is the most sort of carbon intensive? Where's the biggest focus area for you? - So we look at manufacturing when it comes to both silicon. One should also look at how a product gets built the entire PC, the motherboard, the chassis, the kind of battery choices and display and keyboard everything that's used to make that entire product. And once that gets shipped, it doesn't end there.
Even the packaging material once you ship it, and then as the user starts to open it up, power it and use it, there is that whole energy efficiency and power needed to operate the machine, which is important. It's the operational side. So we focus on that as well. And you know, these days, repairability and upgradability is becoming a big key factor in sustainability because you don't want to just go dump your PC a year later and then realize that you know you wanna buy a completely new machine. So a lot of importance on that aspect which kinda extends the first life of a PC, so to speak.
So we're focusing on all of them, of course there are parts where you tend to do more than the other but the key thing is not to ignore the lifecycle. - I thought, I read somewhere, this is a while ago, that for PCs they're very different than servers. So, PCs have the vast majority of the embedded carbon of the device, but in the server, actually the magnitude of the amount of carbon is vastly higher than even the total magnitude of the carbon for a PC client. So a server uses tons more, no, I shouldn't say tons but it uses a lot more carbon than a client.
But the percentage even within them so forget the magnitude difference, the percentage of carbon for servers is vastly weighted towards in use so the electricity and cooling and whatnot. Whereas the vast majority of carbon for a PC albeit on a lower overall scale is in what it takes to build the device. Did I get that right Gokul? - Yeah, Tom, you're spot on. Bulk of the carbon footprint is when you manufacture it on a personal computing device. And like you clearly said they use carbon footprint or the carbon emission is in the thousands, if I may, on the server, whereas it's in the hundreds just to show the unit difference as you use it for a personal computing device.
That's why a lot of focus is on the manufacturing. And it's also pretty interesting to know that more than 65% of the carbon footprint is on the motherboard. So, which is a key part of how we can go help reduce that carbon footprint as we have people building, manufacturers building these computers pay attention to every part of what's going into the product - Yeah, you mentioned the motherboard and I think a lot of people probably don't realize this, but for a typical laptop inside, how big is the motherboard for a laptop? - Typically, most laptops have motherboard that's almost 70% of the real estate below the keyboard through the X and Y direction. So it takes almost 25, almost 30 to 40% of the base of the laptop inside the chassis. That's the size of the motherboard and several hundred components that go in there. - Right, so that's where I was going.
So now the device, you may think that it's exactly the size of your laptop but it's actually not. It's only about maybe two-thirds to three-quarters of the size of the laptop itself. And then on the device you already said it's a couple hundred components, right? - On an average you could go 400 to 500 different components depending on what kind of PC you're using a 30-inch laptop or a gaming PC. So there is a range but there are several components that go into that motherboard. And that's where bulk of the opportunity exists in terms of how we can make it more carbon footprint lower and carbon footprint.
Because that's a big part of the manufacturing side of things. - What are the other sort of carbon aspects of the motherboard? - So it starts off with the PCB itself. The PCB has many layers. The prepeg and the kind of copper you use for running the PCB. And then you have the components that are surface mounted on the PCB.
The key aspects are the size of the motherboard is important. The number of layers that are there in the PCB is another critical aspect in terms of how much copper and what kind of recycled copper you use. Component reduction itself, many discrete components versus integrating them into axis that you can use. So there are power deliveries, there are display connectors, there are USB connectors and charging circuits, memory, storage, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth all of these components go to the motherboard. Making them modular is gonna be super critical because then you have an opportunity to either upgrade your memory or your storage versus having to replace the entire motherboard.
That's a big part. And then last but not the least is to kind of make the trade off. How much do I really go on sustainability that it becomes cost prohibitive versus how much can I do in a manner that it can scale so that I can manufacture several Hundreds of thousand or millions of these computers as as they go out for users. - Yeah, one thing you didn't mention which I think would be interesting, when I learned this, I was kind of like wow, is the manufacturing of it. So like the amount of energy it takes to literally solder stuff and what, can you talk about that a little bit? - The way you solder these components also consumes energy.
So in a typical manufacturing line, you'll have these machines where these soldering, the boards go through a soldering run and you can use varying degrees of temperature. So there is a new technology called the low temperature solder, which really helps in reducing the amount of temperature needed, which means lower energy for you to actually surface mount these components on the PCB. And there also is a way of how many times you reflow that through that equipment, which is again, a big part. It's not just the motherboard, it's the energy we use to actually build these boards in the factory that also contributes to the carbon footprint. - What do you think is, (clears throat) the main driver for people in purchasing a new laptop? And is that something that could be modular or swapped out or is that something that's kind of integral to the motherboard itself? - Actually, that's a great question Camille because if you look at the motherboard there is always this configurability that the end user looks at, "Hey, how much memory do I have? What kind of storage do I have? How many years port do I want pick?" So you could take the modularity entirely to one end of the spectrum and make it super modular into a Lego block which may put a lot of harness on the user to almost behave like an engineer, to assemble them.
And so it may cater to certain enthusiasts who want to do, but it may not cater to everybody who wants to build a laptop from scratch. And then there is the other extreme where everything is built in and they're all on the board and if something goes wrong you gotta re repair or replace the entire motherboard. And that's the other end of it. So, one of the big challenges and opportunities for this industry is where is that middle ground? What is the right modularity that we can tap into? And typically speaking, storage, memory and the ports that you have these are ports wear and tear as you plug in and plug out. So if something goes wrong with your port you don't want to change your motherboard but you just want to change only the IO module. So there are those aspects that are typically considered as big value add if you can design it in a modular fashion that'll help the end user.
- Is it counterintuitive or opposite incentive then, though, for computer manufacturers or even the component manufacturers even the company you work for, (chuckles) to have people extend the life of the laptop or the PC? I mean, how is that going together? How are those two things having a win-win situation? - It's not an easy answer. Certainly the refresh cycle is also a function of how much software and what are the capabilities of the user increasing over a period of time. You know, there are gonna be those users who will have a laptop for a much extended period of time because they're usage is very different from others who always want to be in the bleeding edge of the technology because they want the maximum performance, new features and capabilities. So I don't think there is a one size fit all but it does bring a healthy tension in the system which is trying to meet the needs of what the users want. A lot of the users are starting to want sustainability as an experience.
Just like, you know, a decade or two ago people were carrying, going to the airport, buying water bottles, putting it in their bag. You see a lot of people carrying stainless steel water bottles and refilling the bottle with water and not using the plastic water bottle. And now that shows that they care.
And I think the trend is more where users want to take a device out and they want to show that they've actually been a responsible citizen to the planet where they have a sustainable computer device. So you're seeing that trend share so that causes an interesting tension that you just brought up where we have to balance it out, what's the right thing for the business and what's the right thing for the user experiences are chatting for. - If somebody cares about sustainability, where do they get information to know what device is better from a sustainability perspective than the next device on the shelf at the retailer or some other supplier? How do they get information to make an informed decision? - I think in the computing industry, we're still in an a fledgling stage where that messaging is not as well brought out. But key things that they can look for is what is the material used for building the PC? Are they using recycled chassis material rather than use some of the materials that cannot be recycled or will hit the dump yard. Look for repairability, upgradeability in the product as those features exist in the PC that they're buying, and of course, what is the energy efficiency? How much is the power that the laptop consumes for a typical usage that they run so that they know what that means for them.
And we are seeing the industry starting to bring that messaging out not only their products but also in their retail store where it's called out and they are eco-labels which are starting to become important. Similar to the energy star there are different eco-labels that are existing for sustainability that's starting to show up in products. One such in North America is EPEAT there are similar ones like the European Union, ErP Lot3, there is a CEC and a TCO. These are other similar eco-labels that are there. So looking for products that does have those eco-labels is another good indicator for a buyer to look for if they're buying a sustainable compute platform.
- Is there any kind of (clears throat) like radical shift happening in terms of the materials being used or the process being used in the manufacturing? Like are we starting to see, I don't know bamboo used in computers as opposed to you know what I'm saying? Is there anything like sort of radically different or is it more about just using less of something or having to not replace the entire thing? - There's two categories of materials that are starting to surface. One is using recyclable material or recycled material also to build your chassis. So picking it up, rather than taking, you know mining and taking a completely new raw material you're actually building your chassis with something that was already hitting the dumpy yard and you were able to salvage and recycle it. So recycled aluminum, people are starting to use earthy material. We saw some products that are starting to come out with different material composites where they are brought together to give the reliability and still have the element of recycle capability.
So that's one category. The second category of materials that are typically looked at as conflict-free minerals. So you want to build your PC with those responsible minerals, either because of geopolitical or because they're not renewable and they're really affecting the earth.
There are alternate sources of materials that can be used for certain components. So that's the other category of material choice that the industry is looking at. - So Gokul this is all interesting. I think, you know, understanding more about the PC that's in front of each of us when we work or we're at home, I think is an important thing. And I think at a high level most people understand that sustainability is important and it is happily getting more and more important.
But I'd like you to look ahead, you know maybe the next, I don't know, several years. Where do you think the industry is going with regards to sustainability? Can you give us any insights into what you think might or might not happen? - I think everybody is going to really wanna see sustainability in the product that they're buying which means it's a visible factor, just like how stainless steel bottles replaced plastic, right? It's visible, you can see it. You don't have to go through a label or anything. So similarly, they don't start looking for chassis when they see the product more, the motherboard and other things, first thing that appeals to them that's gonna be an important aspect where they're gonna make certain choices that really, means something to people for sustainability. The second aspect would be the whole think about upgradeability and repairability I think right to repair has become kind of a theme in certain product trends. And I think that helps.
My take is it may not be the most prevalent one because you're gonna have different categories of users some that may not want to, but that some would but even if they cannot repair, they would want to make sure that only what's broken is fixed but not the entire thing. So there's becoming more of that plan responsibility that everybody cares, even though each user may not be the nerd or the engineer who wants to go geek out on replacing things. And then the, um, third aspect is going to be more around end of first life rather than end of life.
Meaning people are gonna wanna look at how can my PC become a value for somebody else? I have upgraded, maybe someone else is gonna upgrade to what I had, which is going create other market and business model opportunity. People call it secondary market but I think that carries a little bit of a quality a tag to it, which may or may not be the case. I think the market should mature in the timeframe that you're saying that these are markets that are really going to get the second life of it.
Similar to a Carfax people are gonna be able to run a report on their compute and get to know what parts are there how long they existed, what's the wear and tear. They can make a really solid decision when they want to buy that secondary device or in the secondary market. Sustainability as the user experience is going to be a big one. You know, we talk about user experience in so many ways, but I think people are gonna want to feel that experience when they buy a sustainable product. Those are some things that come to my mind, Tom, some. - Do you have any sense of, if somebody is really focused on this with respect to their own computer or their own household of computers including even I think, you know, waterfalling within household members potentially, like what kind of a difference does that make over a human lifespan? - I have certain personal stories that I can talk about meaning there is a whole opportunity of users users who lack equitable technology in education and a lot of the secondary market in most affordable households that have had computers have more than one, if not two or three sitting in the house.
And if they find a right way to refurbish them and hand it out to somebody who can actually gain that equitable technology particularly in education, that's a great place. And we've done some projects, my son has done some, but I'm saying that's becoming a pretty important place where old functional computers can actually become usable somewhere else in the market. The other aspect reason why people keep using it is because they don't know what happens to their data. So if the industry comes with a very secure way of being able to take care of the data in their old PCs then there is more opportunity for responsible planet citizens to do something with the device. A lot of times they don't know what to do with it because their data is there, and they're worried about you know, how to take care of the data and making that simpler would make a lot more possibilities happen. - Well Gokul, it's been good talking to you and obviously a topic that means a lot to all of us.
- Thanks Tom. It's always fun to talk about sustainability an area that's really at its infancy but it's got a lot of opportunities for the industry. - [Instructor] Never miss an episode of InTechnology by following us here on YouTube or wherever you get your audio podcasts. - [Presenter] The views and opinions expressed are those of the guests and author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Intel Corporation. (upbeat music)