Global Fluorinated Substance Regulatory Restrictions May Trigger Costly Equipment Changes

By Sanjay Baliga, director of Sustainable Manufacturing, SEMI Global Headquarters

Introduction to the Problem

In May of 2016, SEMI sounded an industry alarm about a European regulatory proposal, that could profoundly affect equipment manufacturers up and down the supply chain. The proposal from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), under the EU REACH regulation, would restrict the use of the fluorinated substance, PFOA, in finished products. The regulation would affect not just consumer products, but also products used in the industrial sector for manufacturing, including all wafer / substrate processing equipment placed in European fabs. The European proposal includes a set of critical updates, some of which may have major impact on the industry.

In addition, there is a similar substance restriction proposal from the United Nations under the Stockholm Convention. This proposal would also restrict the use of certain fluorinated substance (including PFOA) in finished products, including all wafer / substrate processing equipment. The Stockholm Convention proposal would also restrict PFOA use in photolithography applications. If enacted without revision, these restrictions would take effect in 2020 (or shortly thereafter) in almost every country on earth.

In this article, we'll review the EU proposal, discuss compliance challenges, introduce the Stockholm Convention, and conclude with suggestions on how you can help.

European Union Restriction Proposal

In late 2014, under the authority of the REACH Regulation, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposed restricting the use of the fluorinated substance, PFOA, in EU manufacturing and all finished products sold into the EU. The restrictions also includes all PFOA-degradation telomers, which could include thousands of unique fluorinated substances. PFOA is a persistent organic pollutant (POP) that does not easily biodegrade in the environment and has a tendency to bio-accumulate in ecosystem food-chains.

In response to the EU regulatory proposal, SEMI Global Headquarter and the SEMI Europe Office provided four rounds of feedback to various government stakeholders. In all four sets of feedback, SEMI requested that the equipment industry be allowed ten years to comply with the restrictions. That is, we requested an enforcement delay of ten years so that industry may continue to use PFOA in equipment construction until alternate substances are identified and implemented (more information about likely PFOA uses in equipment later in this article).

Last month, European governmental stakeholders voted on the final regulatory language and the restrictions are now law. Please note the following:

Global Fluorinated Quote 1Semiconductor manufacturing equipment is being given just five years to comply with the restrictions. This means that equipment could not be placed on the European market and installed into European fabs in early 2022 unless all PFOA residues (measured at 25 part per billion) is completely eliminated from any and all individual parts in the equipment.

Spare parts, replacement parts, and maintenance parts for semiconductor manufacturing equipment would have to be PFOA-free (measured at 25 ppb) starting in 2022 if these parts were not previously placed on the market before 2022.

Finally, used manufacturing equipment placed on the market for sale in Europe would also have to be PFOA-free (at 25 ppb) in 2022.

To better understand how challenging complying with these restrictions would be, it’s important to understand PFOA use in equipment and what it would take to remove it.

PFOA in Equipment and Compliance Challenges

Our understanding is that PFOA is sometimes used during the construction of fluoropolymer-containing materials (such as PTFE or Teflon), which are routinely incorporated into chemical containers, vessels, tubing, gaskets, ductwork, filtration, and coatings in semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

If PFOA is used at any point during the construction of the fluoropolymer, it’s likely to be found as a residue in the finished fluoropolyer-containing part (and in the larger semiconductor manufacturing equipment).

PFOA substitutes do exist that can be used during the construction of fluoropolymer-containing materials. But few companies in the equipment supply chain have qualified how the substitutes affect manufacturing performance variables of the semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

Compliance with the PFOA substance restrictions for equipment would entail, at the minimum, a two-fold process:

  1. Identification of PFOA residues (and all residues of PFOA degradation telomers) in all containers, vessels, tubing, gaskets, ductwork, filtration, and coatings incorporated into all components, sub-assemblies, and parts within semiconductor manufacturing equipment. For this, equipment suppliers would have to test every individual part within the larger equipment (down to individual screws which could be coated with PFOA). Otherwise, they would have to request information from their suppliers as to whether the components, sub-assemblies, and parts they source contain PFOA residues. In turn, the manufacturers of the components, sub-assemblies, and parts would have to communicate to their upstream suppliers, in a repetitive and cyclical process involving potentially hundreds of thousands of individual companies. The costs of undertaking this process would not be insignificant.
  1. If PFOA residues are found, re-design of all vessels, containers, tubing, gaskets, ductwork, filtration, and coatings incorporated into all components, sub-assemblies, and parts within semiconductor manufacturing equipment. For this, equipment suppliers would have to understand how the re-design may affect the wafer-processing performance of the equipment within the larger fab environment. Re-qualification testing would likely be required as a necessary part of any change to equipment. The costs of undertaking this process would not be insignificant.

These two processes would likely take many years, and this is the reason SEMI requested ten years for all companies to comply.

The five years granted in the final regulation may not be adequate to undertake these complex supplier inquiries, redesign, and testing processes. The two-fold process described above would be even more challenging for used equipment place on the European market in 2022. Is it even feasible to redesign and requalify used equipment given these restrictions?

To address some of these concerns, the SEMI EHS Division held an information-sharing event, called the Sustainable Manufacturing Forum, six months ago at SEMICON West. The Forum addressed "Government Regulatory Compliance for Complex High Tech Products and Elaborate Global Supply Chains." Two important sessions at the Forum addressed PFOA challenges:

  • During the Forum session on Government / Industry Dialogue, Remi LeFevre, a top official from ECHA, and Rania Georgoutsakou, SEMI Director of European Public Policy, discussed salient elements of the PFOA restriction proposal. LeFevre also met with SEMI members on a number of other occasions during SEMICON West.
  • During the Forum session on Technology and Design Challenges, staff from the Chemours Company, Fujifilm Electronic Materials, Entegris, and Intel Corporation addressed approaches and challenges for industry compliance with the PFOA restrictions.

Forum presentation materials are available for download and I urge you to review them. The materials are a great starting point to understand compliance challenges and approaches.

United Nations Global Restriction Proposal

Global Fluorinated Quote 2In September 2016, the United Nations proposed including PFOA and related substances for global restriction under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. More information about the proposal is located here.

Nearly every country on earth participates in the treaty dialogue, but not all countries are legally bound by the restrictions imposed by the treaty. Here is a short list of countries where the restriction proposal would likely be enforced:

  • Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam

Here is a complete list (please look to the last column, “entry into force”).

Currently, the restrictions would not apply to United States, Malaysia, and Israel. Understanding compliance for Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) is complicated (please ask me directly).

You should assume that the Convention affects your company if any of the following is true:

  • You have operations in the countries noted above
  • You have customers in the countries noted above
  • You have supply chains in the countries noted above
  • Your supply chains have supply chains in the countries noted above

Global Fluroinated Quote 3As currently written, the Stockholm Convention would restrict PFOA and related telomers in all finished consumer and industrial products placed on the market, including semiconductor manufacturing equipment. The proposal would also restrict PFOA use in photolithography applications during semiconductor manufacturing. Our understanding is that the parties to the Convention will vote on the final restriction proposal in 2019 with final enactment in 2020. Enforcement would be controlled directly starting in 2020 by the countries listed above.

The good news for us is that we have time to ask for revisions to the Convention proposal. But such revisions would require SEMI and its members to engage the Stockholm Secretariat and individual countries involved in the larger restriction dialogue. SEMI has a new global member working group addressing these activities. We have already submitted one short feedback document to the Stockholm Secretariat. If you would like to assist us moving forward, please let me know.

The Big Picture – How Can SEMI Help Industry

Based on the two-fold compliance challenges that I mention above, industry will have much to accomplish in the next five years to comply with the European proposal. If the Stockholm Convention proposal is enacted without revision, we would have less time to comply.

Global Fluorinated Quote 4Are we up for the challenge? Yes, we are, because of our ability to innovate. But many compliance challenges will be solved more effectively and efficiently if we all work together. Industry-wide compliance costs will likely increase if we all decide to tackle this problem individually.

I propose the creation of the member-driven Sustainable Manufacturing Equipment Program, where we can address this particular regulatory concern, but also look into the future to other sustainable manufacturing concerns (including GHG emission reduction, energy conservation, etc). 

If you have feedback or would like to assist SEMI in the establishment of such a program, please contact me (sbaliga@semi.org) and I’ll put you in touch with like-minded SEMI members. 

Global Update
SEMI
www.semi.org
January 31, 2017