(International Observation) Why is Russia's "heavy fist" counter-sanction targeting noble gases?

  China News Agency, Beijing, June 11th: Why does Russia's "heavy fist" counter-sanction target noble gases?

  China News Agency reporter Wu Xu

  Recently, the United States and Europe have continued to increase sanctions on Russia.

With the full launch of the sixth round of EU sanctions against Russia, the global energy market has experienced substantial fluctuations.

At the same time, Russia's counter-sanction measures against "unfriendly countries and regions" have also aroused great attention from the outside world on the energy market.

  Russia's Ministry of Industry and Trade recently threw a "heavy fist" to counter Western sanctions, deciding to impose export restrictions on inert gases such as neon, which are necessary for the manufacture of semiconductors, by the end of this year.

Inert gases such as neon, krypton, and xenon are the key materials for the core process of chip manufacturing. Russia's supply of inert gases accounts for nearly 30% of the world's total demand.

Some analysts pointed out that Russia's countermeasures will accelerate the reconfiguration of the global energy supply chain.

Is a new round of crisis in the chip industry brewing behind Russia's "cutoff" of inert gas?

A reporter from China News Agency recently interviewed Ren Lu, a senior analyst in China's rare gas market and general manager of the gas technology think tank "Gas Circle", to analyze and interpret this.

  Why are noble gases a "bull's eye"?

  According to the news released by the Russian side, Russia will strictly limit the export of inert gases, and the export of inert gases, including neon gas, must be approved by the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade before the end of the year.

Before the release of this regulation, Russia exported neon and other inert gases to many countries and regions in the world, including the United States, Japan and other countries, but after the regulation came into effect, Russia will only export to countries and regions with special licenses.

  "The importance of inert gases such as neon, krypton, and xenon in the chip manufacturing process is almost irreplaceable." Ren Lu pointed out that whether it is the front-end lithography of the chip or the key technologies such as the back-end packaging lithography, it is inseparable from inertness Gas assistance.

  In the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the price of the noble gas has already started to rise sharply as the two major global neon gas suppliers in Mariupol and Odessa shut down.

ASML, the world's largest lithography machine manufacturer, recently stated that because neon gas is an irreplaceable raw material in their production, it is looking for new suppliers to solve the supply problem of inert gases.

  "Shortly after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Western camp banned the supply of core components to Russia, and asked chip suppliers to suspend the supply of chips and equipment to Russia. But at the same time, Russia has been exporting chip production to Europe and the United States and its camp. The required rare gas." Ren Lu said, "This is equivalent to the fact that steamed buns steamed from their own flour are prohibited from being sold to themselves. In this case, of course, Russia will be unhappy, so it will take countermeasures and not sell it directly." flour'."

  Ren Lu pointed out that Russia is a big country of inert gases, and the raw materials of inert gases produced by Ukraine mainly come from Russia.

"At a time when Europe and the United States continue to suppress Russian energy, Russia has strengthened its position in the rare gas market by restricting exports to reform the supply chain of semiconductor materials."

  The global "core" shortage will deepen?

  Neon, helium and other inert gases are mainly used in semiconductors, liquid crystal displays, optical fibers and other fields.

In particular, neon gas plays a crucial role in the refinement and stability of the chip process.

In the first half of this year, the US-led Western camp jointly imposed economic sanctions on Russia.

Chip companies such as Samsung and TSMC have successively announced the termination of their chip foundry business in Russia.

This move further affected the stable development trend of the global chip industry chain.

  "The lack of upstream raw materials will naturally affect the entire chip industry." Ren Lu believes that the impact of the situation in Russia and Ukraine on the semiconductor supply chain is expanding, which is reflected in three aspects.

  First of all, the contradiction between supply and demand of rare gas may continue to ferment.

"Compared to the surge at the beginning of the conflict, gas prices have recently flattened out. But the news of Russia's export restrictions will undoubtedly stimulate the market again, which may push the prices of rare gases such as neon to rise further." Ren Lu analyzed that the chip foundry industry chain It will also be affected, and chip giants such as Samsung and TSMC may need to bear a series of impacts brought about by the shortage of rare gases.

  Second, the global market supply chain is being restructured.

Ren Lu believes that both Western sanctions and Russian countermeasures have affected the reconstruction of the global energy supply chain.

But the global core shortage is an old topic, and the statement that "the global core shortage is caused by neon" is not accurate.

"The conflict has been going on for more than three months. At present, no major semiconductor factory has stopped production because of gas. And the cost of neon gas in the entire semiconductor manufacturing is very small." Ren Lu said that the global semiconductor material market in 2021 will be 64.3 billion US dollars, According to the "Global Electronic Grade Rare Gas Market Report 2022 Edition" released by "Gas Circle", the neon gas used in semiconductors is worth about 200 million US dollars, accounting for only 0.3%.

  In addition, countries and regions in the Western camp are also affected to varying degrees.

"The impact on the United States and Europe will be relatively controllable. A German gas group's global neon gas production projects (excluding Russia and Ukraine) can produce more than 80% of the total supply, and have a relatively complete supply chain diversified management system. "Ren Lu believes that, on the contrary, Japan, South Korea, etc. may suffer a greater degree of damage, because these countries have very little production of rare gases.

According to the data of the Korea International Trade Association, the country's imports of xenon and krypton from Russia and Ukraine in 2021 will account for about 50% of the total imports, with a high degree of import dependence.

  "Rising prices and shortage of raw materials have forced major semiconductor manufacturers to innovate their production processes. The final result is to reduce the amount of use or use alternative solutions, which will take a long time." Ren Lu emphasized that the global chip industry chain is an On the whole, once there is a situation of non-cooperation around the world, no company can survive on its own.