According to the official news on March 29, the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Communist Party of China and other ministries and commissions have recently issued successive policies to solve the shortage of chips, key technology “neck” and other problems. However, from the viewpoint of market price fluctuations, there are more deadly than the chip necking is the industrial gas necking.
Recently, it has been publicly reported that the overall industrial gas market prices have continued to rise rapidly, with the average weekly price of liquid gas in China rising by 16% by the end of the third week in March. The main reason is that the global shortage of chips is transmitted to the semiconductor material side, and the “electronic special gas” (electronic special gas) in industrial gases is an essential raw material in the process of manufacturing chips.
According to the semiconductor industry association, the cost of a chip, as a variable cost of special gases and consumables accounted for up to 14%. E-gas is the second most important core material after silicon wafers, and ultimately determines the yield and reliability of the finished chip. In addition, the downstream applications of specialty gases in China include four major industries, with the largest share of applications in the IC industry at 42%.
According to the executive vice director of China Industrial Gas Industry Association, Mr. Chungan Fu, as the raw material for chip production, most of the electronic special gases are still imported, except for a few varieties that have been localized, and it is urgent to solve the pain of “short gas”.
Public data show that the distribution of the entire industrial gas market in China is: the United States Air Chemical (25%), Germany Linde (23% of the market after the merger with the United States Plex in 2018), France Air Liquide (23%), Japan’s Dayang day acid (17%), that is, 88% of the current share is highly dependent on the United States, Germany, France and Japan, the four suppliers.
According to reports, on March 10, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Development and Reform Commission and other ministries and commissions jointly held a closed-door coordination meeting to talk about the problem of industrial gas “neck”. According to the disclosed official documents, the National Defense Science and Technology Industry Bureau also participated in this closed-door coordination meeting.
As we all know, helium is the most “stuck” industrial gas, and the military industry is also a major consumer. If helium is out of supply and not self-sufficient, major aerospace science projects such as manned aerospace, lunar exploration, space stations, etc. will be halted instantly, and advanced weapons for national defense are also inseparable from helium.
Public information shows that the world’s proven helium reserves are about 51.9 billion cubic meters, with the U.S. accounting for nearly 40% and China accounting for only about 2%. 95% of China’s helium depends on imports, and U.S. helium has been the main source of China’s helium imports.
As noted in an analysis published on the NetEase website in early March, China has also adjusted its sources of helium imports as tensions between the U.S. and China have continued in recent years. However, helium imports from Qatar are more expensive than the U.S. For example, in 2019 Qatari helium imports were priced at $53 to $60 a kilogram, while U.S. imports were only $47 to $56 a kilogram. Second, Qatar is indeed rich in resources, but it does not have its own technology and is heavily dependent on the United States. Once again, the situation is not optimistic as the U.S. and Australia can control more than one-third of our helium gas by joining forces.
For industrial gas neck, there has been a domestic industry executives said that gas products are important basic raw materials for modern industry, in fact, the weakness of the entire national industrial system. In the industry’s view, the lack of professional talents restricts the development of China’s industrial gas industry compared to the existence of large gaps in processes and equipment. The two say the same thing, that is, the common key problem of high-end field development “talent shortage”.
In an article titled “The historical origins of China’s reform and opening up” and reprinted on Xinhua, the official mouthpiece, in 2008, the author, Cao Pu, wrote in the beginning that the Cultural Revolution brought serious disasters in the decade, including the brutal persecution of a large number of intellectuals with expertise, and exposed a set of data: by the end of 1968, the Chinese Academy of Sciences had 171 senior researchers in Beijing alone. By the end of 1968, 131 of the 171 senior researchers at CAS in Beijing alone had been listed as targets for beatings and censorship. The number of those persecuted to death in the entire institute reached 229.
Although this article was originally published in the Study Times, a newspaper sponsored by the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, it has been removed for the sake of the “greatness” of the Party.
According to relevant information, the persecution of scientists during the Cultural Revolution included a number of chemists who were tortured or killed by suicide or persecution. For example, Zeng Zhaoxi, a professor at Peking University, was the founder of China’s chemistry discipline, and Wang Jiliang, a professor at Hangzhou University, was one of the pioneers of Chinese modern chemistry and a pioneer of Chinese analytical chemistry research. If they had not been forced to die back then, we can imagine how many talents they would have nurtured for the field of chemical industry and science in China today.
After more than 30 years of development, China’s industrial gas industry is still weak in research and development of electronic special gases and relies heavily on imports; the amount of helium reserves is one aspect, but the inefficiency of mining and refining technology severely limits production capacity. As domestic analysis points out, once the United States and Australia cut off the supply of helium, the situation would be even more deadly than if the chips were necked.
If we look at the root of today’s necking situation in many important areas in China, we cannot help but examine the history of the Cultural Revolution, which persecuted many Chinese scientists.