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Daikin tech helps cut China reliance for chipmaking material

Purifying process developed for mineral used in etching chemical, HCFC refrigerant

Hydrofluoric acid is used in the etching process for semiconductors.   © Reuters

OSAKA -- Japanese air conditioning giant Daikin Industries has developed a way to produce a crucial chipmaking chemical using raw materials from Mexico, creating an opportunity to reduce reliance on China.

Hydrofluoric acid is used in the etching process for semiconductors, and the compound is also the main ingredient for hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants. Japan imports over 90% of the material for hydrofluoric acid from China.

Daikin has developed a purifying process that paves the way for producing hydrofluoric acid from Mexican fluorite minerals, which are less pure than Chinese fluorite. This breakthrough is expected to diversify the supply chain for the acid.

Hydrofluoric acid is made by adding sulfuric acid to fluorite. Around 7 million tons of fluorite are produced globally each year, and China accounts for 60% of the output. Global reserves are estimated at 310 million tons.

Mexico reportedly hosts larger fluorite reserves than China, but the Mexican reserves contain arsenic. Daikin's technology overcomes the obstacle by solidifying the arsenic and discarding it.

The extra steps in the process are expected to double the cost of producing hydrofluoric acid compared with using Chinese fluorite. Daikin will explore cost-cutting measures as it adopts the new method.

Daikin operates fluorite processing facilities in China, which produce hydrofluoric acid sold to chipmakers. The company wants to build a fluorochemicals plant in Japan for fluorite imported from Mexico. Potential sites are being surveyed, and the investment is expected to total tens of billions of yen (10 billion yen equals $86.8 million). The company looks to partner with a semiconductor company for the project.

Daikin will monitor market conditions over a few years before deciding on the investment.

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