Chip industry has new concern over plant closures for key PFAS chemicals

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PFAS chemicals are used in the etching process for manufacturing chips.

The time of dreams

The fragile semiconductor supply chain has one more thing to worry about.

Chips have been relatively scarce throughout the pandemic, with Covid-19 periodically triggering factory shutdowns and demand soaring alongside sales of PCs, smartphones, electric vehicles and other electronics. The market has recently been concerned about a shortage of neon and other rare gases used in chipmaking, triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This time, the issue involves a class of chemicals called PFAS, an acronym for “perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” Semiconductor manufacturers use PFAS as coolants in the etching process, a crucial step in chip production.

The vast majority of semiconductor-grade PFAS is produced by


(symbol: MMM), mainly in a factory in Zwijndrecht, Belgium. Recently, the 3M plant stopped production of PFAS to implement emissions controls required by the Belgian government.

On March 30, 3M announced plans to invest €150 million (approximately $163 million) “to proactively advance corrective action for the Zwijndrecht community to address manufacturing and elimination” of PFAS. “3M has designed and activated a wastewater treatment system that has helped to significantly reduce PFAS releases from its Zwijndrecht site, while continuing to work with the relevant authorities to resolve issues with amended water discharge permits that impact the operations of the facility,” he said.

In a statement this week, 3M said Barrons that “the timeframe for resolving the situation is uncertain and, in many respects, beyond 3M’s control. We have communicated with our customers about the potential for disruption.

In a research note this week on the matter, supply chain monitoring firm Resilinc noted that 3M accounts for 90% of the world’s coolant supply for the chip industry, saying that 80% of this comes from the only factory in Belgium, while the rest is produced in the United States The remaining 10% of the global supply comes from


a Belgian chemical company that produces the material at a plant in Italy, Resilinc said.

Resilinc said 3M sells the coolants under the Fluorinert and Novec brands.

PFAS customers include companies with large chip manufacturing operations, such as



SK Hynix



Taiwan semiconductor

among others.

In response to a request from Barrons, Intel said it was keeping a close eye on the matter. “Intel has assessed the possible impact of the shutdown of coolant production at the 3M Belgium plant on its supply chain,” the company said in a statement. “While we are working with 3M regarding coolant supply and their restart strategy, we do not anticipate an immediate disruption to our operations. However, we are carefully monitoring the situation and working closely with our suppliers to mitigate our risks.

Similarly, SK Hynix said it “plans to use the remaining inventory for short- to medium-term use. We are considering plans to diversify our sources of cooling materials in case this situation becomes a long-term issue.” term, and we will ensure that no interruptions occur in our production.

Micron has a similar position. “We do not anticipate any negative impact on our production volumes in the near term, but this is a dynamic situation and we remain vigilant,” Micron said in response to a question from Barrons. “We are taking steps to secure additional supply for a longer period. We strive to ensure continuity of supply to our customers.

Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor did not immediately respond to requests for comment on 3M’s issue.

Write to Eric J. Savitz at [email protected]

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