The Mexican chemical maker Koura and the Japanese trading firm Sojitz are hoping to stabilize the supply of fluorochemicals needed for Japan’s semiconductor and battery industries by building a hydrogen fluoride (HF) facility in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan.
HF is the starting material for most fluorinated chemicals. In the semiconductor industry, HF is used to clean chip surfaces after etching. HF can also be used to make lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), an electrolyte salt used in lithium-ion batteries.
Japanese companies already produce HF. But most chemical firms in Asia make fluorochemicals using Chinese fluorspar, a fluorine-containing mineral, according to Mike Corbett, managing partner at the electronic materials consultancy Linx Consulting. The US Geological Survey estimates that China produced about two-thirds of the world’s fluorspar in 2022.
The Koura-Sojitz facility, funded in part by the Japanese government, would make HF using fluorspar from Koura’s mine in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. The companies say the facility will be the first in Japan to make fluorinated materials from Mexican fluorspar when it opens in 2025.
Corbett says adding an alternative source of fluorspar will help protect Japan’s semiconductor industry from fluorochemical supply chain disruptions, such as price spikes or export restrictions.
In 2010, China stopped exporting rare earth elements, which are used to make magnets for electric vehicle motors and wind turbines, to Japan. Earlier this year, China restricted the export of gallium and germanium, metals that are also used to produce semiconductors. Similarly, Japan restricted exports of HF to South Korea in 2019 following a diplomatic dispute.
Koura is already a leading supplier of fluorine-based refrigerants and propellants used in inhalers. The HF project in Japan is part of the firm’s strategy to expand into the growing semiconductor and battery industries. In the US, Koura’s parent company is working with Solvay to produce polyvinylidene fluoride, which is used as a binder in battery materials. Koura is also building a LiPF6 production facility in Louisiana.