Chinese news outlets reported on July 16 that Befar Group, a chemical company located in Shandong Province, signed a hydrogen fluoride (etching gas) supply contract with a South Korean semiconductor manufacturer. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun also reported that Samsung Electronics recently began to test the quality of etching gas supplied by a non-Japanese company, adding that the supplier is probably South Korean, Chinese or Taiwanese. It is also said that SK Hynix is considering using hydrogen fluoride supplied by a non-Japanese company and that Russia is planning to sell high-purity hydrogen fluoride to South Korean companies.
The Japanese government has restricted the export of hydrogen fluoride to South Korea since July 4. According to the Korea International Trade Association, Chinese and Japanese etching gases accounted for 46.3 percent and 43.9 percent of South Korea’s etching gas imports from January to May this year, respectively.
Both Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are making no comment about the news. “It seems that the companies began to diversify their supply sources before the Japanese government’s export restrictions,” said an industry insider, adding, “In view of the nature of semiconductor manufacturing processes, the substitutes are likely to become actually usable in one year or more.”
Many in the industry say that the news about South Korean semiconductor manufacturers’ substitute procurement can be burdensome on Japan’s part. “As the manufacturers reduce their dependence on Japanese materials, more and more Japanese companies will criticize the Shinzo Abe administration, and then the Japanese government will be blamed in the event of a significant undersupply of semiconductor chips,” one of them explained.