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Published: May 2011
Anesthesia/medical applications are the largest end-use market for nitrous oxide, but they are growing the slowest. Consumption in semiconductor applications is the second-largest and the fastest-growing application. Aerosol propellants are the third-largest application and second-fastest growing, mainly in Southeast Asia, although Western Europe is the largest consumer of nitrous oxide in aerosol propellant applications.
In semiconductor applications, nitrous oxide is primarily used in semiconductor processes, but not in the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry, although global solar PV wafer production capacity has grown dramatically since 2000. During the past five years the market share for silicon wafer production has switched from 80% electronic (semiconductor) and 20% solar PV wafers to 45% electronic and 55% solar PVs. Nearly all of the nitrous oxide used in semiconductor production is consumed in eight countries/regions—Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, China and Western Europe. These countries are expected to remain the leading producers of semiconductor wafer chips.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of nitrous oxide:
Semiconductor processes that use nitrous oxide include
- Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) (nitride, polysilicon glass, oxide, etc.)
- Diffusion (oxidation, nitridation, etc.)
- Rapid thermal processing
- Chamber seasoning
CVD is a chemical process used to produce high-purity and high-performance materials in the semiconductor and other industries for the production of thin films. In a typical CVD process, the substrate wafer is exposed to one or more volatile precursors, which react and/or decompose on the substrate surface to produce the desired deposit. Frequently, volatile by-products are also produced, which are removed by gas flow through the reaction chamber. CVD processes are often used for integrated circuits (ICs).
Consumption in semiconductors is projected to be the fastest-growing segment during 2010–2015, with Asia accounting for the majority of the growth.