South Korea increases semiconductor material research and development to respond to Japanese export controls

By Diodes Incorporated

On July 1, 2019, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that it will use "fluorinated polyimide" for the manufacture of OLED display components in smart phones and televisions, and "photoresists" that must be used in semiconductor manufacturing processes. Three materials, such as "high-purity hydrogen fluoride", strengthen export controls for Korea. Officially implemented on July 4.

On the 2nd, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated in an interview with Japanese media that the control measures did not violate the WTO rules and had nothing to do with free trade.

According to data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the three materials that will strengthen export controls for Korea are the key materials required for the display panel and semiconductor chip manufacturing process. Among them, fluorinated polyimide is a kind of PI film, which can be used for folding screen display, semiconductor packaging, 3D printing, etc. Japan's fluorinated polyimide has a global market share of 90%; It is used for fine pattern processing of integrated circuits, semiconductor discrete devices, etc. Japan has a global market share of 90%. High-purity hydrogen fluoride is an essential material in semiconductor cleaning processes, and Japan has a global market share of 70%.

However, the output of Korean photoresist and high-purity hydrogen fluoride is close to zero. In particular, in the semiconductor on-board circuit exposure process, it is necessary to apply a plurality of layers of photoresist on the silicon wafer, and the core material is currently 100% from Japan. People in the photoresist manufacturing industry said that South Korea did not dare to invest heavily in the technology because of the late start of photoresist manufacturing in South Korea and the low demand for micro-engineering.

Obviously, this move in Japan is bound to threaten the production of display panels from Samsung and LG in South Korea, as well as the production of memory chips from Samsung and SK Hynix. Although the Korea Ministry of Industry, Trade and Industry has previously publicly stated that it plans to increase the self-yield to 70% in 2022, and promote a 2 trillion won enterprise cooperation project during the five-year period. However, people in the semiconductor industry pointed out that although the government tried to produce these materials, it has not yet made new progress. On the other hand, if South Korea wants to catch up with Japanese technology, it will not only have high development costs, but only large enterprises have the ability to carry out even technology development. It is also difficult to avoid the patents registered in Japan.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, the Korea Ministry of Industry Commerce and Resources (hereinafter referred to as the Ministry of Industry) decided to invest 6 trillion won (about 35.29 billion yuan) in research and development of semiconductor materials, parts and equipment,to respond to Japanese export controls.

As for how the 6 trillion won is distributed, the Korea Ministry of Industry said that based on the manufacturing revitalization strategy released last month, the investment direction of materials, parts and equipment industries was further refined.

1. From 2020 onwards, within ten years, South Korea has completed a feasibility study on a project to invest 1 trillion won in research and development of semiconductor materials, components and equipment.

2. As for ordinary materials, parts, and equipment, the government is conducting a feasibility study on a plan to invest 5 trillion won in six years from 2021.

In the context of increased trade disputes between China and the United States and Japan's tightening of export controls to South Korea, the International Semiconductor Industry Association (SEMI) predicts that South Korea's investment in semiconductor equipment remains at the highest level in the world.

In the first quarter of this year, the proportion of global 12-inch wafer semiconductor productivity, Korean companies accounted for 29%, Taiwan companies accounted for 25%, Japan accounted for 14%, China and the United States each had 11%.

In the recent report, the International Semiconductor Industry Association predicted that South Korea's investment scale will account for 27% of the global and the largest proportion of semiconductor equipment investment this year and next year. According to the report, Samsung Electronics is building a new production line, including the Pyeongtaek P2 plant, the Gyeonggi Hwase EUV (extreme UV) production line, and the Xi'an No. 2 plant in China, which will affect the scale of investment.

On the other hand, SK hynix completed the China Wuxi C2F plant on April 18 and is building a new facility in Icheon M16. According to the International Semiconductor Industry Association, the Korean semiconductor equipment market will continue to grow in the short term due to the expansion of Korea