Electronic Chemicals: Semiconductors, Silicon and IC Process Chemicals
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Published: December 2011
Since the sharp drop in the semiconductor business in 2009 caused by the global economic recession, the semiconductor business has gradually recovered. The global market for IC process chemicals is expected to grow at an average annual rate of approximately 5–6% through 2016.
The electronics industry uses a broad range of highly sophisticated specialty chemicals in many processing steps in the manufacture of electronic components and products, in silicon wafers and integrated circuits (IC), for packaging and printed circuit boards (PCBs), in the manufacture of compound semiconductors and optoelectronics, and in the production of flat panel display products. This report covers the major specialty chemicals consumed in the production of integrated circuits or silicon chips including silicon wafers, atmospheric and specialty gases, photoresists, ancillary chemicals, wet processing chemicals, CMP slurries, thin film metals, and new chemicals and materials such as copper plating chemicals and precursor materials for low-k and high-k dielectrics.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of electronic chemicals by type:
With 54% of total chemical consumption, silicon wafers account for the largest share. Growth in revenues and price per wafer area are being pushed by a better product mix (increased volume and share of 300 mm wafers) and an increase of wafer prices for all diameters, fueled by an ongoing silicon shortage and rising energy costs for the crystal growing process. The four largest silicon wafer producers shared 90.8% of the global market in 2010, in this order: Shin-Etsu Handotai, Sumitomo Mitsubishi Silicon Corporation (SUMCO), Siltronic and MEMC Electronic Materials. It is expected that the total market share of the four largest companies will grow further at the expense of the smaller players.
Consumption of gases used in the semiconductor industry is expected to grow by approximately 6% on average annually through 2016. As semiconductor complexity increases, the number of process steps and number of layers grow as gas-phase etching and cleaning displace some wet processes. About 55% of total consumption by value was accounted for by atmospheric gases (bulk and cylinder); the remaining 45% included the specialty gases silane and its derivatives, dopants and etchants, cleaners and reactants. The global gas market for the semiconductor industry is dominated by Air Liquide, Air Products, Linde Nippon Sanso and Praxair. A variety of other companies are niche players and supply gas specialties (fluorinated compounds, dopants, and low- and high-k dielectric precursors).
Growth in the consumption of IC process chemicals is driven by increases in installed fab capacity—which has more than doubled over the past ten years, with the bulk of the new capacity at the 45–180 nm nodes—and processed silicon wafer surface area, as well as by more expensive chemicals consumed by the new technology nodes. Increased technology efficiency provided by the semiconductor equipment industry is leading to lower material usage per silicon wafer surface area, while at the same time well-proven and mature product lines from photoresists, wet process chemicals, atmospheric gases, CMP slurries and sputtering targets experience severe price pressures.
In 1998, about three-quarters of the world market for electronic chemicals was concentrated in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. This dominance rapidly eroded as the other nations of Asia emerged as producing regions over the past ten years, claiming a share of about 47% of the world consumption of IC process chemicals in 2010. This trend was fueled by the growing global consumer electronics market, the growing consumer electronics production industry in Asia, and a strategy change of U.S., European and Japanese integrated device manufacturers, who turned to asset-light or fabless strategies and outsourced production to foundries in Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, China or Singapore. The largest IC process chemical consuming region is Japan, accounting for about 25% of the total, followed by the Republic of Korea (18%), the United States (16%), Taiwan (16%), Europe (12%), Other Asia (7%) and China (6%).