News from Japan: New resist strip, gas suppliers’ ups & downs, microbial wastewater treatment

October 16, 2007 – Scanning recent headlines in Japanese papers pulls up a new method for stripping resist from wafers, gas suppliers adding to and cutting back shipments, and a water treatment system that uses bacteria activated by oxygen microbubbles to remove nitrogen from industrial wastewater.

Kurita resist strip method adds recycling step

Kurita Water Industries Ltd. says it’s come up with a new method for stripping resist from semiconductor wafers by combining an electrolyzed sulfuric acid strip with a cost- and waste-saving recycling step, notes the Nikkei Business Daily.

The conventional way to remove resist material after circuit patterns are transferred onto wafers is to activate sulfuric acid with hydrogen peroxide, which is consumed during the process; also, water is created during the chemical interaction, diluting the sulfuric acid and reducing its stripping capabilities, the company notes. The end result is that the cleaning liquid needs to be replaced every 2-3 hours, and large amount of wastewater accumulates.

In the new method, some of the acid is electrolyzed to generate persulfuric acid, which does the same job as hydrogen peroxide without the negative factors. Some of the acid is continuously recycled and electrolyzed during the stripping process to add more persulfuric acid to the mixture. The company says its new process can go on for up to 40hrs with no degradation in resist strip capability.

Kurita aims to sell a machine for resist stripping in fiscal 2008. Pricing will be set based on expectations that the system will pay for itself in savings in one year.

Helium firms soften cutbacks

Industrial gas companies have softened their stance on reduced helium deliveries in 4Q07, now planning to trim deliveries by only ~10% instead of the 20%-30% cutbacks amid rising demand, slowing production, and tightening supplies, according to the Nikkei daily.

The paper had earlier reported that cutbacks in helium, used to make semiconductors and flat-panel TVs, would impede production of various electronic devices ahead of the year-end holiday sales. Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corp. reportedly had already warned customers it would shut off nearly a third of supplies, while Iwatani International Corp. and Air Liquide Japan Ltd. also were planning significant cutbacks in deliveries.

Now, though, the firms are pulling back on those aggressive plans, planning cutbacks of around 10% to just a few percent, vs. 20%-30%, in response to efforts in the US to delay work on related facilities that would have tightened global supplies, the paper notes. Exxon Corp. now plans to overhaul its aging gas field infrastructure in a period of two weeks instead of a month, while the US government is delaying plans to upgrade helium stockpile facilities until next spring.

The gas makers have all reached basic agreements with chipmaker customers to meet nearly all their needs through year’s end, partly through cutting back in other areas of helium demand (e.g. balloons and blimps) and not taking on new orders, the paper notes. Also, alternative supplies are being explored, e.g. Air Liquide is procuring helium from Qatar through its French parent firm.

Japan represents about 8% of the ~200 million m33 annual global demand for helium, with the top four companies supplying most of the volume. Chipmakers and flat-panel TV manufacturers account for slightly more than 20% of the demand, the paper notes.

Nomura selling microbubble wastewater treatment system

Borrowing technology from Sharp Corp., Nomura Micro Science Ltd. is selling a new wastewater treatment system that uses bacteria activated by oxygen microbubbles to naturally remove nitrogen from industrial wastewater, notes the Nikkei Business Daily.

The system, which incorporates technology from Sharp, addresses two major downsides to bacterial treatment: time and equipment size. Microscopic bubbles are generated and injected into a wastewater treatment tank, where they float intact and supply oxygen to the bacteria, increasing the activation rate of the bacteria tenfold. The bacteria degrade nitrogen-bearing compounds and release the nitrogen into the atmosphere, providing a natural alternative to conventional heat & chemical treatment methods.

Hopes are high for the new system, which Sharp installed in its Hiroshima chip plant last year. The paper notes that there are well over 100 semiconductor factories in Japan, and the system is small enough to fit in existing facilities, even ones already using other wastewater treatment methods. Installation is expected to cost tens of millions of yen (US$ hundreds of thousands of dollars).

TEL orders trimmed 13% on capex cuts

Group orders for Tokyo Electron Ltd.’s semiconductor and LCD manufacturing equipment are projected to be down 13% sequentially in calendar 3Q to roughly 130 billion yen (US $1.10B), about 20% below expectations (a 35B yen/$300M shortfall) mainly due to capital spending delays from Chinese memory foundries and stalled negotiations for LCD panel manufacturing equipment according to the Nikkei daily. The firm also is feeling the affects of a financial policy change whereby it now books orders for some chipmaking tools with longer leadtimes incrementally, instead of all at once.

“We hit a bottom in the July-September period,” said TEL chairman Tetsuro Higashi, quoted by the paper.

The company is still on track, though, to achieve fiscal-year targets sales of 900B yen ($7.66B) and 160B yen ($1.36B) in operating profits, growth of 6% and 11%, respectively. “Based on the recovery in memory and LCD equipment, even conservative estimates for the October-December period see orders topping 170 billion yen [$1.45B],” Higashi noted.


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