Electronics Gases Keep the Chips Flowing

Controlling molecular reactions or stopping reactions by creating an inert atmosphere - electronics gases play an essential role in many semiconductor fabrication processes.

Electronics gases keep the chips flowing

Invisible but Indispensable: Electronics Gases Keep the Chips Flowing

Controlling molecular reactions or stopping reactions by creating an inert atmosphere - electronics gases play an essential role in many semiconductor fabrication processes. With its global reach and state-of-the-art technologies, Linde is the partner of choice among electronics companies who value security of supply while also looking to carve out an early adopter advantage on emerging trends.

Microchip with several dots of light above

They may be small in size, but they certainly are big in impact! We are surrounded by microchips. Everything from electronic devices and cars to household appliances and industrial robots are powered by these tiny but indispensable chips. In addition, megatrends such as digitalization and electrification are driving demand for mini-computers and thus for semiconductors in general. The microelectronics industry is one of the most dynamic, competitive and challenging markets worldwide. And as it continues to grow, so too does demand for secure, efficient supplies of high-purity and ultra-pure gases. Numerous semiconductor fabrication steps rely on gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, argon, helium, carbon dioxide and hydrogen along with a host of electronics specialty gases and mixtures.

Computer digital chip with motherboard

Ability to Deliver Projects Worldwide

In fact, semiconductor fabrication specifications are among the most stringent in the world, which explains why players in this sector prefer to team up with a reliable partner, one with the international footprint and technical expertise to deliver the gases and chemicals at the time, place and purities needed. For example the ability to deliver projects worldwide is growing in importance as more and more manufacturers are looking to hedge their geographical risk by diversifying beyond Asia. This trend is particularly evident in the US, where Linde has noted a steady rise in demand for its air separation units (ASUs) to produce high purity gases.

Looking back twenty years, customers previously focused their investment plans primarily on Taiwan, South Korea, and China. Now, however, attention is increasingly shifting towards the US and to a lesser extent Europe in a bid to reduce reliance on imports. And Linde is ideally positioned to support this shift with its SPECTRA™ plant portfolio for high purity gaseous and liquid oxygen, nitrogen and argon. With contract wins increasing, these plants are enjoying continued popularity as they clearly cater to shifting market needs.

World-Class Reliability and Operating Efficiency for Chip Fabs

All chips start out as sand, which contains a large amount silica, which is used to produce silicon. At high-tech fabrication plants known as fabs or foundries, the silicon is processed to create chip wafers. Various gases are needed to turn the silicon into semiconductor wafers. The main one is nitrogen but oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, argon and helium also play an important role. Air gases, O2, N2, Ar are typically produced on site by an air separation unit. The other bulk gases are usually delivered in trailers to the customer’s plant. Last but not least, a range of electronics specialty gases and mixtures are delivered in cylinders. These gases are used to control chemical reactions at molecular level. In some instances, crude rare gases such as Ne, Xe and Kr and also be produced from the air separation unit.

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Measuring glass with nitrogen gas

Ultra-Pure Gases – More in Demand than Ever

Purity is especially important for the latest generation of devices with miniaturized circuitry. These special chips have extremely intricate structures, which raise the risk of points of failure. In fact, even the slightest impurity can cause imperceptible flaws and lead to defects. This means not only must the manufacturing environment be as pure as possible, the gases used in that environment also have to be of ultra high purity.

Added to this purity challenge is the issue of spiraling demand. New, state-of-the-art fabs are driving demand both for electronics specialty gases and for ultra-high-purity air gases. These are used for example to create protective – or inert – atmospheres where nanostructures can be fabricated. Linde and its joint venture Linde LienHwa (LLH) are expanding their reach to specifically serve this growing market with gas supply solutions tailored to individual volume and purity needs. Similarly, Linde has partnered with an electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer that is planning its own microchip facility. The aim is to ensure security of supply as EVs require a lot more chips than combustion-engine cars.

Modular air separation plant at Roethenbach, Germany

Accelerating Time-to-Solution with Modular Solutions

As mentioned above, volume capabilities are also moving center stage in the semiconductor space. Traditionally, high-volume gases such as nitrogen were always generated on site. In the late 1990s, Linde was delivering nitrogen plants with a typical capacity of 3,000 – 5,000Nm3/h. By 2008, this figure had more than tripled. Today these plants provide more than ten times the capacity of former times.

But it’s not just nitrogen that is on an upward trajectory. A sharp uptick in demand for other electronics gases such as argon is making on-site production models equally. Linde developed its SPECTRA plants specifically to meet rising demand for ultra-high-purity argon. Adding to their appeal, new SPECTRA developments come with an attractive price tag, combining improved energy efficiency with higher product yields.

SPECTRA on-site nitrogen generation plant at Tainan, Taiwan

Reliable, Energy-Efficient Operations

SPECTRA on-site nitrogen generators are the most reliable means of meeting the ultra-high purity needs of the electronics industry. They are engineered for reliable operations and low specific energy consumption, delivering ultra-pure gaseous and liquid nitrogen and oxygen with less than 1 part per billion (ppb) impurities. Modular SPECTRA ASUs maximize operational efficiency for lowest cost of ownership and environmental footprint. The entire SPECTRA family is designed on a modular basis for rapid, cost-effective deployment on site.

In addition, the electronics industry is increasingly interested in the on-site production of green hydrogen, as demonstrated by an agreement between Linde and Infineon for the production of green hydrogen at Infineon’s site in Villach, Austria. Linde will build, own and operate a two-megawatt electrolyzer plant at the Villach site. The plant will produce green hydrogen using Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology from ITM Power. The use of high-purity green hydrogen in manufacturing reflects Infineon’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at its Villach site.

Looking ahead, Linde is determined to keep pace with spiraling demand for electronics gases across the semiconductor industry, for example by dynamically expanding its SPECTRA family, giving customers even more choice and keeping the wheels of innovation turning behind the scenes at microchip fabs.

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