Unique water plant enabling Intel’s massive expansion - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Unique water plant enabling Intel’s massive expansion

October 16th, 2021 development
Unique water plant enabling Intel’s massive expansion

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

Intel’s Sept. 24 groundbreaking ceremony for the $20 billion expansion of the Ocotillo campus in Chandler brought out all the top officials.

Chandler’s mayor and most of the city council were there. So were Gov. Doug Ducey and U.S. Rep Greg Stanton’s staff. Intel CEO, Patrick Gelsinger was the star attraction.

But it’s unlikely any of them would have been there until Intel overcame one key issue to doing business in the desert: Water.

It takes a lot of water to run a manufacturing plant. In addition to the potable water needed for a workforce of several thousands, they also need a lot of water for their cooling towers.

“This particular expansion, the additional [water] demand for its size was actually lower than other expansions,” said John Knudson, public works and utilities director for the city. “And the reason for that is because their recycling capability that they’re developing through the W.A.T.R.”

W.A.T.R. (Wastewater and Treatment Recovery) is Intel’s water treatment and recycling facility and company officials say it’s truly groundbreaking. Knudson said without it, the expansion and all those thousands of jobs would likely not be coming to Chandler.

This is the second such facility Intel has built in the U.S., the first being in Oregon. Intel has had a water treatment and recycling facility on the campus before.

What makes W.A.T.R. different?

“A typical industry like Intel will treat their water to what they call industrial pre-treatment standards and then they send that water on to the municipality where it has further treatment, and then can be reused,” said Todd Brady, Intel’s director of public affairs and sustainability. “In this case, we’ve actually invested in a water reclaim system where we can treat that water to standards that we can directly reuse that water again at Intel.”

So, city facilities are no longer needed to treat a lot of water.

“It’s literally millions of gallons of water a day that we can reuse back here at Intel.”

Intel’s W.A.T.R. facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, surpassed one billion gallons of water treated less than a year after it became operational. Brady said the Chandler facility became operational earlier this year. The expanded facilities mean Intel can treat nine million gallons of water each day that it can then reuse.

“Intel is taking extraordinary steps to return nearly all the water it uses during construction of these plants,” Ducey said during the groundbreaking. “This is essential for Arizona’s water future, and it lays out a blueprint for conservation strategies for future construction projects.”

Dominic Greensmith is overseeing construction of the two new fabs for Intel’s expansion. With construction now underway, he said they expect production of semiconductors to start in 2024.

“It’s a tight deadline, but we’ve done this a number of times,” Greensmith said. He said he plans to hire between 3,000-5,000 construction workers.

Greensmith said they should be able to make the deadline despite a nationwide slowdown in construction because of a lack of supplies and workers.

“We planned for that,” he said.

Chandler’s Knudson said the city and Intel have been talking for years to try and overcome problems as the company’s facility grew, and finding a solution for its water needs was one of the biggest issues they faced.

“As opposed to paying us to go out and find more water, which often is unavailable, they chose the correct path, which was to recycle water and return it back to the facility, reducing their overall need.”

Intel’s Brady said it is just one step the company is taking to deal with water. Others include encouraging farmers to switch from flood to drip irrigation, repairing old irrigation systems and urging farmers to switch to plants that require less water.

“We’re investing outside the company to help others use less water and put more water back into things like the Colorado River and other watersheds,” Brady said.