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Katrina to hammer silicon wafer production?

Blows hydrogen plant out of action

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Hurricane Katrina could have a deeper impact on the world's semiconductor industry than first feared, market watcher iSuppli claimed today.

The affect of the storm on energy supplies is already beginning to be felt, but iSuppli today said the hurricane had forced a key producer of high-grade hydrogen to shut down.

Air Products and Chemicals' New Orleans plant generates extremely pure liquid hydrogen used to aid the deposition of epitaxial films onto the silicon wafers from which semiconductors are fabricated.

Katrina's "extensive damage" stretches to the plant, Air Products has admitted. More than 150 local employees were affected by the storm, the company added.

The New Orleans facility isn't Air Products' only plant, but its Sarnia, Ontario factory is due to shut down due to a temporary suspension of its supplier's feedgas plant, the company said. Air Products operates in over 30 countries, though not all of its plants produce high-grade hydrogen.

Either way, the researcher worries that the upshot will be reduced wafer output which, in turn, will hinder semiconductor production, though it confesses the "full impact on the semiconductor supply chain remains unknown".

Indeed, it noted that Air Products isn't the only supplier of electronics-grade hydrogen, and its competitors may well increase production levels to compensate for Air Products' reduction.

"In these extraordinary circumstances, Air Products is actively working to assist customers with their supply needs, including obtaining product from other sources and geographies," said Air Products. "Communications with all customers are underway."

iSuppli also said some wafer makers are working on technqiues that will allow them to use hydrogen that's less pure than they would normally require. ®

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