Ultra-high purity hydrogen chloride, which is one of key materials used for semiconductors, is expected to be produced in South Korea in the near future. When the localization happens, South Korean semiconductor companies will be able to use domestic ultra-high purity hydrogen chloride, which is heavily imported from foreign companies currently, while the semiconductor materials industry’s ecosystem will be strengthened even more. Also, it will be another case of successful localization of key semiconductor materials that South Korean companies have been pushing for since the restriction imposed by the Japanese government.

According to the industry on Monday, a South Korean chemical company called Paik Kwang Industrial Co. is currently working with Samsung Electronics to begin domestic production of ultra-high purity hydrogen chloride. They are currently evaluating the quality of their ultra-high purity hydrogen chloride and they are expecting an approval for their chemical to be used for actual production lines by the end of the first half at the earliest.

Ultra-high purity hydrogen chloride is used to clean semiconductor wafers or as an etching solution during etching process. Its use has been increasing due to an increase in high-performance system semiconductors. It is heavily used by the semiconductor industry as Samsung Electronics is responsible for about 80% of hydrogen chloride demands in South Korea.

However, ultra-high quality hydrogen chloride is heavily imposed from foreign companies such as a Japanese chemical company called Toagosei and a German industrial gas company called Linde. Although few South Korean companies were able to partially commercialize their own ultra-high quality hydrogen chloride, their chemicals were not used much for actual production lines due to quality issues and others.

As a need for localization of ultra-high quality hydrogen chloride has grown and as reorganization of the chemical’s supply chain has become a topic since the restriction imposed by the Japanese government, cooperation between Samsung Electronics and Paik Kwang started to gain momentum and it has led to complete preparation for production.

A representative for Paik Kwang said that the company’s chemical is currently under Samsung Electronics’ evaluation process and that the company is ready to supply its chemical once it hears back from Samsung Electronics.

As part of retaliation towards a South Korean court’s ruling on forced labor, the Japanese government enforced restriction on exportation of hydrogen fluoride, EUV photoresist, and fluorine polyimide in July of 2019. Its plan was to pressure the South Korean government by affecting the semiconductor and display industries that are major industries in South Korea.

However, the Japanese government’s action caused South Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix, and LG Display to reorganize their supply chains of key materials. Not only were they able to replace the three materials with domestic products, they have also caused diversification and accelerated localization throughout the fields of materials, parts, and equipment.

Ultra-high purity hydrogen chloride is one of many products that South Korean companies are working to localize, and it will be interesting to see if will become another successful case of localization. Since the restriction, SK Materials succeeded in localizing hydrogen fluoride gas while SoulBrain, ENF Technology, and Ram Technology have successfully replaced liquid hydrofluoric acid from Stella Chemifa Corporation and Morita Chemical Industries with theirs.

Development of a material requires “accumulated time”. Due to semiconductor industry’s characteristics, it takes a long time before a material is applied to an actual production line as the material requires close examination of its quality. Although visible results of semiconductor parts and equipment in addition to materials may seem minimal as they require long-term investments, efforts and attempts on localization are taking place in each field.

LOTVacuum is currently working on production of turbo (high vacuum) pumps that are currently imported from foreign companies from England, Germany, and Japan. Dongjin Semichem and MiCo Ceramics are working on EUV photoresist and ceramit heater, which is a key component of semiconductor equipment, respectively. Samsung Electronics has also been very active in strengthening the ecosystem of the semiconductor materials, parts, and equipment industries by investing in companies such as KCTech, LOTVacuum, MiCo Ceramics, New Power Plasma, and FST.

Because the tension between South Korea and Japan is still very high, diversification in supply and demand and strengthened supply chains still remain as important topics for the semiconductor industry.” said a high-ranking official from the semiconductor materials industry. “As a result, South Korean companies are continuing to work on localization which is then acting as an opportunity for the industry’s development.”