Pure-enough hydrogen fluoride produced by SK Materials

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Pure-enough hydrogen fluoride produced by SK Materials

SK Materials has started the mass production of 99.999 percent pure hydrogen fluoride gas, the company said Wednesday.  

 
Hydrogen fluoride was one of the three materials for high-performance chip and display production subject to tightened export restrictions by the Japanese government in July 2019.  
 
The chemical is used in gas or liquid form to clean surfaces or etch patterns on semiconductors. Before the restrictions, Korean chip makers had a high dependence on Japanese suppliers and their technology to produce high-purity hydrogen fluoride required for high-performance chips.  
 
SK Materials is the first Korean company to manufacture hydrogen fluoride gas, or etching gas, of high purity. The company said in a statement that Korea was previously totally dependent on imports.

 
Soulbrain has succeeded in mass producing 99.9999999999 percent pure hydrogen fluoride liquid — known as 12N — in January. Both the liquid and the gas are necessary in chip production.

 
Hydrogen fluoride is used in display production as well, but LG Display and Samsung Display were able to find domestic suppliers last year. For displays, the substance does not have to be as pure.  
 
SK Materials, which is 49.1 percent owned by SK Holdings, produced its first batch of high-purity hydrogen fluoride gas in late 2019 and expanded facilities in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang, to achieve annual capacity of up to 15 tons.  
 
The goal is to achieve localization rates of 70 percent by 2023, SK Material said in a statement.

 
While 99.999 percent pure hydrogen fluoride is not as pure as the product that had been purchased from Japan, manufacturers are able to work with it.  
 
When the Japanese government first announced the restrictions last year, the general outlook among chip and display experts was that the blow would affect production. Only a few months of supply was available, and it would take at least six months for Korean companies to substitute the imports.  
 
Samsung Electronics and SK hynix did not experience any production suspensions as a result of the loss of the imports, and the display makers have also worked through the restrictions. Diversification of sourcing and increased efficiency have allowed the manufacturers to weather the storm.

 
Japan also started approving individual export requests regarding the three materials from August 2019.

 
In the meantime, the government launched a national initiative to support the growth of Korean material and equipment suppliers, offering regulatory shortcuts and state funds.

 
In April, Kolon Industries succeeded in the mass production of fluorinated polyimide— a chemical used to make displays and also one of the three substances subject to tightened export controls by Japan.

 
No local company has succeeded in mass producing photoresists for extreme ultra violet (EUV) lithography yet. The substance is used to form circuit patterns on chips. It’s not an essential for memory chips but is to make high-performance logic chips.  
 
Efforts are ongoing to localize supply. In January, Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont announced plans to invest $28 million to build an EUV photoresists factory in Korea by 2021. Samsung Electronics and SK hynix participated in a Series C funding of Corvallis, Oregon's Inpria, a company specializing in developing EUV photoresists.  
 
BY SONG KYOUNG-SON   [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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