Since Japan began to restrict exports of three key materials for semiconductor and display production -- high-purity hydrogen fluoride, fluorine polyimide and photoresists -- to Korea in July 2019, Korean companies have been seeking to localize them to reduce the nation’s dependence on Japan. Some of these materials have already been localized or will be produced by Korean companies in the first half of this year.
A Korean company has localized a high-purity hydrofluoric acid solution, one of the materials that the Japanese government put on its list of export-controlled items, said the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) on Jan. 2. The company will supply the high-purity hydrofluoric acid solution to Korean chipmakers in the near future.
Korean chipmakers have depended mainly on Japanese companies for high-purity hydrofluoric acid solutions with a purity level of 99.9999999999 percent (12 nine) in which impurities are only one trillionth of the whole solutions. High purity hydrofluoric acid solutions are mainly used for wafer etching in a semiconductor manufacturing process.
Soulbrain, a Korean chemical materials company, has built a new factory in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province and began to produce hydrofluoric acid solutions in the second half of last year. "Soulbrain has doubled its capacity to produce hydrofluoric acid solutions. Accordingly, it has become possible to supply about two-thirds of hydrofluoric acid solutions required by Korean semiconductor manufacturers," a MOTIE official said. “It is the first material that Korea has localized since the start of Japan’s export regulations on the three items."
"I understand that Soulbrain is ready to meet the demands for high-purity hydrofluoric acid solutions of Korean semiconductor producers such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix," said an industry insider.
Also underway is the localization of gaseous high-purity hydrogen fluoride (etching gas) and fluorine polyimide film. SK Materials, an affiliate of SK Group, is reportedly looking to begin supplying high-purity hydrogen fluoride gas in the first half of this year.
Fluorine polyimide film is used to produce curved displays. A foreign chemical company based in Korea is expected to complete a new plant and begin the production of the item before long.
However, the localization of photoresists seems to have a long way to go. Now that the Korean semiconductor industry is not using a large amount of photoresists, it is seeking to lower its dependence on Japan through the diversification of suppliers rather than large-scale localization, a Korean government official said. Samsung Electronics has imported EUV photoresists necessary for drawing circuit diagrams of less than 10 nanometers, through bypass routes such as Belgium. The Japanese government approved EUV photoresist exports one time in December of 2019, allowing Samsung Electronics to produce products without any disruption.