Innovative and environmentally-friendly cleaning process based on fluorine (F2) as a substitute for NF3 and PFCs in the semiconductor industry

© Texas Instruments

Manufacturing the microchips needed for mobile phones, laptops or calculators demands the highest standards of cleanliness in the materials and production stages used. The layers and structures required for these tiny electronic components are sometimes only a few nanometers in size. This is why many of the production facilities of the semiconductor industry have to be thoroughly cleaned after every process stage. So far, this has been done using perfluorocarbons (PFCs) or nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), gases that are 17,000 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide because they are particularly stable and remain in the atmosphere for a long time.

The ecoFluor project team is backing an innovative mix of gases that contains up to 20 percent less fluorine and does without the environmentally harmful PFCs and NF3 altogether. The global warming potential of the gas mixture used is zero and is therefore lower than that of carbon dioxide. Due to the additional use of microwave technology, the innovative gas mixture should also cut the time needed to clean the production facilities and therefore save costs.

The partners divide the work between them over the three-year project. Solvay supplies the innovative gas mixture and trains the workforce to handle it safely. The Fraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Solid State Technologies works on continuously optimizing the gas mixture. Muegge supports the project with its microwave know-how and the corresponding technology. Texas Instruments demonstrates the applicability of the new gas mixture in its semiconductor production facilities. The gas mixture is being tested at a few installations at the site in Freising. The new cleaning processes will then be transferred to production and its continuity and performance demonstrated in practice.

Global production of microchips and sensors in the semiconductor industry is growing continuously and will exceed 1 billion in 2016. There is a global market for the innovative gas mixture. If the gas mixture is widely used in the semiconductor industry, there will be a positive environmental effect due to the associated significant reduction in the emissions of gases harmful to the environment.