By Peter Strozniak IBM's groundbreaking use of copper to manufacture a new generation of computer chips is expected to benefit the environment. IBM and the U.S. EPA recently reached an agreement over the company's copper metalization process that produces semiconductor chips at its Essex Junction, Vt., manufacturing plant. The EPA has agreed to exempt the copper-metalization process from federal regulations. Prior to copper metalization, IBM was using aluminum chemical vapor deposition process, which creates perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, that produce greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. The agreement calls for the IBM plant to reduce PFC emissions 40% by 2004, says Chad Carboni, an EPA project coordinator in Washington, D.C. "IBM has told us they are pretty confident they can reach the 40% goal before 2004," Carboni says. IBM is required to report its progress semi-annually. In addition, the copper metalization process is about 30% to 40% more energy efficient than aluminum chemical vapor desposition, and produces a computer chip that is 25% more energy efficient. Moreover, the copper process used to build a semiconductor is 20% to 30% less expensive than the same process used to manufacture with aluminum, said IBM, when it announced its copper metalization process in 1997. In 1998 IBM began manufacturing copper chips and shipped its one-millionth copper PowerPC chip in September1999. The use of copper improves the electrical properties of semiconductors. The copper metalization process was developed through a collaboration between IBM's Research and Microelectronics divisions. The IBM agreement was reached under EPA's Project XL, which stands for excellence in leadership, a national pilot program that allows businesses to voluntarily develop with the EPA innovative strategies to test better or more cost-effective methods of achieving environmental and public health protection.