DuPont to invest in photoresists

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DuPont to invest in photoresists

DuPont will invest $28 million between 2020 and 2021 to develop and produce extreme ultraviolet (EUV) photoresists in Korea, which is a key material used to make semiconductors.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Thursday, the global chemical company has agreed to build an EUV photoresists plant in Cheonan, South Chungcheong.

As a result, domestic supplies of EUV photoresists are possible starting next year.

The deal was sealed between Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Sung Yun-mo and DuPont President Jon D. Kemp in San Francisco on Wednesday.

DuPont has two plants in Cheonan operated by its subsidiary Rohm & Haas Electronic Materials Korea.

The investment was initiated by the Korean government after Japan started restricting exports of three key chemicals - photoresists, hydrogen fluoride and fluorine polyimide - essential to making semiconductors and displays in July. Those are two of Korea’s leading exports.

The ministry did not disclose details of the deal but admitted it offered several incentives to the company, including designating the plant a foreign investment, which qualifies it for various tax and regulatory benefits.

Trade Minister Sung emphasized the need to lower Korea’s dependence on key materials from Japan.

“Recently the Japanese government has allowed a bulk license for EUV photoresists, which is a step forward in resolving Japan’s export regulatory action,” Sung said. “But it is not a fundamental solution.”

He added that the Korean government will continue to encourage the making of core materials and parts locally to substitute for imports.

Currently 90 percent of EUV photoresists used in the world are made by Japanese companies including JSR, Shin-Etsu Chemical and Tokyo Ohka Kogyo.

Analysts say a supply of locally made EUV photoresists will not only cut costs for Korean semiconductor manufacturers, but also raise the localization rate for semiconductor materials, which is currently around 25 to 30 percent.

DuPont’s announcement came a week after a local mid-sized chemical company, the Gyeonggi-based Soulbrain, announced it succeeded in developing hydrogen fluoride, or etching gas, with an extremely high level of purity that could replace Japanese imports.

Soulbrain is the first Korean company to succeed in producing a 12-nine or 12N hydrogen fluoride, whose purity level is 99.9999999999 percent.

Higher purity levels are needed to make high-performing computer chips.

“Japan’s export restrictions started as a crisis, but it eventually became a big motivation for our materials, parts and equipment companies to strengthen their competitive edge,” said Minister Sung during his visit to Soulbrain a week ago.

DuPont isn’t the only company that the Korean minister is meeting on his trip to the United States. The government said Sung invited 10 innovative companies in Silicon Valley to discuss investing in Korea.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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