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EU and US team up on use of ‘forever chemicals’ for chips

Image: Yellow Dog Productions, via Getty Images

Two powers reaffirm commitment to advance cooperation on emerging technologies

The EU and US have agreed to work together to find alternatives to the use of so-called “forever chemicals” in the manufacturing of microchips.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of chemicals that have a wide variety uses in industry but around which there are growing concerns about their impact on the environment and health.

Concerns stem from the fact that PFAS take an extremely long time to break down, so they can accumulate in soils, crops and animal food chains. Growing concentrations of the chemicals are frequently found in environmental tests and even in human blood samples.

But in many of their industrial applications, PFAS cannot be easily replaced—these include the manufacture of semiconductors, which play an increasingly essential role in many areas of the economy, from electronic devices to online transactions.

On 5 April, the European Commission said that the agreement to work on alternatives to using PFAS in chip manufacture was one of the outcomes of the sixth meeting of the EU and US Trade and Technology Council in Leuven, Belgium.

It said the research efforts would make use of artificial intelligence, another technology that is entirely dependent on chips.

The EU and US also reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate on emerging technologies more generally, including AI and 6G communications.

They stressed “their common commitment to a risk-based approach to AI and support for safe and trustworthy AI technologies”.

In an update published on the same day, they said their collaboration on AI so far had contributed to addressing challenges such as optimising energy supplies and forecasting extreme weather.