We all know we live in a highly interconnected world. News travels at the speed of the internet, and a huge number of goods and services compete on a global scale. But who’d have thought that the war in Ukraine would be significantly impacting semiconductor manufacturing, and lithography in particular?
Because of this, I’ve learned far more about neon than I thought I ever would.
Yes, neon, noble gas, element number 10. 70% of neon production comes from Ukraine and Russia (one company, Iceblick, makes 60% of the world’s supply, and all of that goes through its plant in Odessa). Neon is a byproduct of steel production, but because it is a rare component of the waste gases, it only makes sense to recover it at extremely large steel plants. This is where Ukraine and Russia come in, since they still operate the old-style massive manufacturing plants that have long since disappeared from Western countries.
But why is neon important in lithography? Excimer lasers use gases like KrF and ArF to generate light, and those gases are regularly changed out during use. But a charge of excimer laser gas is actually about 98% neon, a carrier gas that is essential to the laser’s operation. With the Russian-supported separatists fighting in the Ukraine, supplies have become highly constrained. The price of neon has increased 6X in the last year, to about $1/liter, but worse yet there are shortages. And since a fairly large share of the world’s consumption of neon is used for excimer lasers, this has got the excimer companies worried, and their semiconductor customers as well.
What to do? Gigaphoton has announced a “Neon Gas Rescue Program” to reduce neon consumption for ArF lasers by 50%, and Cymer is working to reduce neon consumption as well. In the meantime, we wait and hope for a peaceful and speedy resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. And I’ll never take neon for granted again.