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Global Neon Demand Expected to Exceed Increasing Supply


By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

Neon (Ne) gas is a critical material for advanced semiconductor manufacturing because it is needed to blend with KrF and ArF gases as laser sources for lithographic steppers. High purity neon is separated from atmospheric gases and then purified using cryogenic processes in massive industrial facilities. Linde Electronics and Specialty Gases has made yet another investment to support its vertically integrated neon supply chain, by adding neon production capability to the company’s largest US based atmospheric gases unit (ASU) in La Porte, Texas, which produces oxygen, nitrogen and argon for the petroleum and petrochemical markets in the Houston area.

The total of more than US$250 million investment also includes upgrades to Linde’s purification and distribution capabilities at several locations around the world. The new production unit will add 40 million liters annually to Linde’s Ne supply, primarily to support customers in the semiconductor lithography and laser vision correction markets. “The unit attached to the ASU is being installed and will come on line this year,” explained Matt Adams, vice president, Electronics and Premium Products, Linde in an exclusive interview with the Show Daily. “Linde is also a multi-billion-dollar engineering company, and we have many ASUs around the world so that allows us to add rare-gas capture capacity globally.”

The Figure shows a recently published neon supply:demand forecast published by the Techcet Group. Brooks Hurd, Sr. Technology Analyst, Techcet explained to the Show Daily why it looks like Ne demand will eclipse supply by 2019, despite efforts to reduce gas use in lithography stepper tools and the use of neon recycling by large fabs. Capture of Ne from large ASU and purification/rectification are technologically challenging, such that few suppliers other than Linde have this capability. Outside of IC lithography, if the most aggressive forecasts for OLED FPD manufacturing are to be believed then the demand for laser annealing in OLED fabs could exceed the total demand of all IC fabs soon. The overall global supply picture including neon developments in Ukraine, US, and PRC, as well as the demand side dynamics are covered in the Techcet Neon Report and quarterly updates.

Global neon supply and demand forecasts through 2023. (Source: Techcet)

Recycling neon

“We’re able to capture better than 80% of the neon being used on the tool, and then send it back to one of our neon purifier to be returned to it’s original specification,” asserted Linde’s Adams. “The benefits to the fab are not so much about economics, but more about stability of supply.” The waste stream is captured and then shipped to a local Linde facility where the purification occurs and any blending needed to bring the composition back to that required for laser gases. To that end Linde has also announced investment into fluorine gas production.

“Linde already has a deep understanding of the latest technologies, OEM activity and customer requirements,” Adams said. “We have decades of experience in refining our global production, analytics, distribution and local stocking/service network. We believe this new investment will allow Linde to further enhance this leadership position well into the future.” All visitors are welcome to visit Linde in booth number 1505 in the South hall in the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Brooks Hurd, Sr. Technology Analyst with Techcet CA, commented, “When you’re designing a recycling system for laser gases you have to know what you are feeding it, and don’t expect that knowledge to be easy to get. Anybody wanting to recycle laser gases has to do an evaluation to determine what specific compounds are in the effluent stream.” For example, while fluorine has to be present, any time there is residual oxygen there will be undetermined oxy-fluorides forming.

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