China’s semiconductor photoresist pain exposed after Japan earthquake

On May 27, a number of land media disclosed that due to Japan’s Shin-Etsu Chemical KrF photoresist capacity shortage and other reasons, resulting in a number of Chinese wafer fabs KrF photoresist supply tension, some wafer fabs KrF photoresist even appeared out of supply. According to the relevant instructions, photoresist (Photoresist, also known as photoresist) accounts for only 5% of the semiconductor materials industry, but is the core of the most critical process in chip manufacturing – one of the three major components of the photolithography process.

In fact, since late February, the news of photoresist capacity tension began to appear in the press. And in March, even triggered the official media CCTV focus on the report “photoresist by the grab”. That is, in just three months, Chinese semiconductor manufacturers import photoresist, through the purchase restrictions, price increases are very difficult to buy, to now have money to buy and face a crisis of supply cuts. According to reports, the main reason, that is, in February this year, the strong earthquake in northeastern Japan led to the Japanese business about 80% of the market supply of photoresist emergency, the situation is particularly serious for Chinese foundries.

At present, the world’s top five (Japan 4, the United States 1) photoresist manufacturers accounted for nearly 90% of the global market share. The three major application scenarios of photoresist are PCB, panel and semiconductor. In the field of G/I line photoresists, the combined market share of Japanese and U.S. companies is over 85%. In the high-end KrF, ArF and the most advanced EUV photoresist core technology, it is even taken over by Japanese and American companies.

The current situation of China’s photoresist industry, the self-sufficiency rate is only about 10%, and mainly concentrated in the field of PCB photoresist with low technology content (94%), mid- and high-end LCD photoresist (3%) and semiconductor photoresist self-sufficiency rate (2%), are the “neck” of the place.

The Beijing authorities are obviously aware that photoresist is a major hurdle in the localization of semiconductors, and in September 2020, the Development and Reform Commission and four other departments jointly announced the expansion of investment in strategic emerging industries, including photoresist. The 14th Five-Year Plan, which was released in October 2020, focuses on the “necking” issue, including photoresist research and development (excluding EUV), for which significant funds are being spent.

However, China’s photoresist industry is not just starting to advance now. Public reports show that the five leading domestic manufacturers in the field of photoresists in China were established between 1996 and 2004, and are located in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other regions with more developed economies and semiconductor industry layout.

Secondly, the 10 leading Chinese universities in photoresist research are cultivating relevant professional talents and industry-academia cooperation. For example, in 2009, led by Beijing Kehua Microelectronics Materials Company, the high-grade photoresist industry-academia-research alliance of Tsinghua University, Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Microelectronics, Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Chemistry, Beijing Normal University, Beijing University of Chemical Technology, Semiconductor Manufacturing International, Beijing Institute of Chemical Reagents and research institutes under CLP Group, and other domestic first-class universities and institutes.

In other words, China’s photoresist industry has been developed for 20 years, in the high-end field is still 2 to 3 generations behind the international standard, the relevant local talent has not yet formed a gathering effect, the most advanced technology is basically in no man’s land, on the whole, not only did not achieve domestic substitution, but more dependent on Japanese photoresist imports.

It is widely believed that the semiconductor neck, has never been a point to point problem, from the product chip, to the front end of the equipment manufacturing, and then to supporting materials, the cycle up, endless. Typical example, the photolithography process takes 40% to 60% of the entire semiconductor chip manufacturing time. About the lithography process three major pieces of a ring card a ring, can be described as follows: no “photoresist”, that is, there is a Dutch “photolithography” is useless, no U.S. “sputtering and etching” technology, is to have photoresist, lithography machine is also useless.

And, no matter how much pain China’s semiconductor industry, localization has a few hurdles, in the end, it is from the problem of talent shortage. And the reason for the Chinese scientists, in fact, people who understand all know.