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LED Markets Fuel CVD Chemicals Demand

Yet again AkzoNobel is increasing capacity at its Texas-based speciality chemicals production site. Compound Semiconductor finds out exactly what is driving growth.
For the third consecutive year, the High Purity Metal-Organics arm of AkzoNobel has unveiled bold plans to increase capacity at its trimethyl-gallium plants and other precursor operations.

In June 2010, the speciality chemical division doubled capacity for trimethyl-gallium (TMG) production at its LaPorte-based production facility in Texas, US. A year later, TMG capacity had doubled again, and plans to construct a further TMG plant to triple existing operations had been put forward.

Fast forward to today and the new TMG plant is well underway, set to boost AkzoNobel's total capacity for gallium-based metal-organics to more than 100 tons a year when complete in August 2014.

And it's not just TMG. In the past few years, production of trimethyl-indium, triethyl-gallium and trimethyl-aluminium has mushroomed while a new facility for bis-cyclopentadienyl magnesium (Cp2Mg) has also started up.

But although these chemicals are key to the manufacture of myriad products in the electronics and solar cell industries, one small device is largely driving the soaring demand for each; the LED. Indeed, each of the organometallic precursors is crucial to the chemical vapour deposition of multi-layer LED structures while Cp2Mg is used as a dopant in semiconductor epitaxy.

“The LED chipmaker market is by far our largest market," says Michiel Floor, Global Business Manager of the High Purity Metal-Organics (HPMO) product group. “And we will continue to execute our capacity growth plans across all products to support further growth of the LED and other compound semiconductor industries."

Floor would not reveal absolute figures for these expansions or the capital involved, but emphasised the business expects continued strong growth and is expanding capacity to cater for this. As he points out, the backlit LED market segment has fuelled demand for the business's precursors in recent years, and strong demand is expected for the next couple of years.

“The use of LEDs as back-lights in computer screens for laptops has virtually reached saturation, however, this conversion is still ongoing in televisions. We expect [this segment] to reach saturation in one or two years when every TV on the globe will be LED back lit," he says. “In that time, [our] growth will not be entirely proportional to LED penetration rates in TV, as we expect TV makers to come up with clever technologies to minimise the number of LEDs in a screen. However we do expect just less than proportional growth."

In addition, Floor now expects the general LED lighting sector to also stoke demand for HPMO products, with strong growth coming from LED manufacturers based in China.

“Demand has picked up very strongly here in the last two years along with the strong increase in the shipment of CVD tools to China," he adds. “In fact, these tools run at a relatively high rate compared to the worldwide industry average, so we certainly see China as a major growth engine for the LED."

But what of the HPMO group's other key markets? According to Floor, he expects continued growth from the III-V solar cells industry, although not as rapid is the LED segment. However, he is keenly watching the power device market.

“Power devices could be a major future growth area for us," he says. “It will be several years until this becomes alarger metalorganics application, and I think the LED market will remain a bigger market for us. The technology is maturing yet still competing with other technologies, so let's hope that the use of compound semiconductors will be the technology of choice in this new segment."

 

The rising demand for LEDs in back-lighting and general lighting applications is driving growth for manufacturers of organometallic precursors.



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