American Semiconductor is also stuck in the neck?

Neon gas supply may be cut off under Russia-Ukraine conflict, experts: Chinese technology is mature

  [Global Times-Global Network Reporter Ni Hao] The further escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine has put the global semiconductor industry, which has been suffering in the "chip shortage", in a turmoil again.

According to Reuters, more than 90 percent of the neon gas used in the U.S. semiconductor industry comes from Ukraine, and 35 percent of the palladium is sourced from Russia.

In the tense atmosphere of the looming conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the United States began to assess the risk of semiconductor supply chain exposure to the situation in Russia and Ukraine, and urged American chip companies to find alternative sources of these materials.

  In a report released in early February by the US market research company Techcet, it was pointed out that neon gas is essential for semiconductor manufacturing and is a by-product of Russia's steel manufacturing industry, while Ukrainian companies are responsible for the purification of neon gas.

  Ukraine mainly produces neon, krypton and xenon, which are key materials for exposure and etching processes in the semiconductor industry.

According to the data provided by TrendForce to the Global Times, Ukraine supplies 70% of the global demand for neon gas, 40% of krypton gas and 30% of xenon gas.

  Everbright Securities analysts believe that in the production process of microelectronics and optoelectronic devices, from chip production to final device packaging, almost every step and every link is inseparable from them, so it is called the "food" and "food" of semiconductor materials. source".

The cost of these electronic gases accounts for 5%-6% of the total cost of IC materials, which is not a large proportion, but largely determines the performance of semiconductor devices.

  Ren Lu, a senior analyst in China's special gas market and general manager of Gas Circle, a global authoritative gas think tank, said in an interview with a Global Times reporter that neon, xenon and krypton are indispensable process gases for the semiconductor manufacturing industry, and the stability of the supply chain Responsibility is extremely important as this will seriously affect the continuity of production.

He said that at present, Ukraine is the main producer of neon gas in the world. Due to the escalating situation in Russia and Ukraine, the stability of the neon gas supply chain has inevitably caused panic in the entire industry.

  So why is Ukraine the most important supplier of neon, xenon and krypton in the world?

Will China's semiconductor industry be affected by escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine?

  Ren Lu analyzed to the "Global Times" reporter that these three rare gases are by-products of the steel industry and are separated and produced by air separation equipment.

Heavy industries such as iron and steel in the former Soviet Union have a huge scale, so the separation of related rare gases has always been relatively strong as a subsidiary industry.

After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, it evolved into a situation in which Russia mainly carried out crude gas separation, and enterprises in Ukraine were responsible for refining and exporting to the world.

  Ren Lu said that although neon, krypton and xenon are necessary for the production of the semiconductor industry, their absolute usage is not high. As a by-product of the steel industry, the global market volume is not very large.

It is precisely in this circumstance that the attention is not high, and the purification of these rare gases requires a certain technical threshold and is deeply bound to the scale of the steel industry. Over the years, the global market has gradually formed neon, neon, Krypton and Xenon supply chain.

  "China is a major steel country in the world. It has achieved breakthroughs in the purification technology of these rare gases, and the production process is relatively mature. It is no longer a technology that can 'stuck China's neck'." Ren Lu said that in extreme cases, Russia and Ukraine supply If the chain is interrupted, China can organize emergency production to ensure domestic supply.

  According to the "Global Electronic Rare Gas Market Research Report" released by "Gas Circle", China will import 4,783 cubic meters of neon gas in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 127.87%, and South Korea will import 1,128,673 cubic meters of neon gas in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 634.11%.

South Korea is the country with the highest use of krypton and xenon, and most of its imports are used in semiconductors.

South Korean KOTRA officials said that if economic sanctions are imposed, the supply of xenon and krypton from Russia will be reduced.

  Ren Lu said that the most tense among the tensions between Russia and Ukraine should be Japan, South Korea, the United States and other countries.

Japan can only produce a very small amount of rare gas domestically, and most of it needs to rely on imports from Ukraine and China.

South Korea used to import all neon gas and relied on foreign technology, and just realized nationalized production in early 2022.

The plant built by Posco in Korea can produce about 22,000 cubic meters of high-purity neon gas per year, which is expected to meet only 16% of South Korea's demand.

Ren Lu said, "South Korea has just achieved localization, and production capacity still needs a process of climbing, so South Korea has considerable concerns about the possibility of reducing the supply of neon gas due to the situation in Russia and Ukraine." For the United States, if the conflict between the United States and Russia escalates, the United States will More sanctions may be imposed on Russia, and rare gases and other semiconductor materials are likely to become leverage in Russia's countermeasures against the United States.

  Ren Lu said that at present, there is no problem with the normal use of rare gas inventories of global semiconductor companies for 6 months.

But specialty gas suppliers are closely monitoring developments in Ukraine to prepare for possible supply shortages.

However, another problem plaguing the industry is the rising prices of rare gases, as well as the possibility of soaring prices caused by the escalation of the situation in Russia and Ukraine and the speculation of middlemen.

During the Ukrainian crisis in 2015, the price of neon gas went out of a big parabola, from the initial 750 yuan per cubic meter that year to the historical peak of 25,000 yuan in mid-July, and neon gas became the most popular gas in the world in 2015. .

However, the price quickly fell back to 3,000 yuan in October.

  Under the epidemic, there is a shortage of chips and a shortage of semiconductor materials. The price of special gases has almost generally risen in the past year, the price of rare gases has been rising since the second half of last year, and the price of neon gas has risen from about 600 yuan per cubic meter to the current 1,700 yuan. The rise of krypton gas is even more outrageous, and the average market price has soared from about 10,000 yuan to about 30,000 yuan.

Ren Lu said, "The tense situation in Russia and Ukraine has reminded the supply chain risks of major semiconductor producing countries in the world. In addition to preparing plans, the entire industry must also guard against the skyrocketing prices of rare gases such as neon, xenon and krypton due to market hype. possible."