Having been ‘very sluggish’ for quite some time, the demand for silicon wafers (monocrystalline) in Japan is now firmly on the road to recovery, according to The Gas Review (TGR).

Demand for argon is also believed to be recovering as a result, approaching an annual level of 40 million m3.

Statistics from the Japan Society of Newer Metals demonstrate that production of monocrystalline silicon in January 2014 amounted to 8,051 tonnes, a growth of 27% over the previous year, while the level of exports rose from 51% in 2013 to 54% in 2014. The depreciation of the yen and the health of the semiconductor sector were cited as the reasons for such growth.

This is reaffirmed by data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for 2014, with its information suggesting that the production of silicon wafers amounted to 4.6 billion, a growth of 38%, and shipments reached 4.9 billion – a growth of 32%. This is still at a lower level than the market peak of 2010, but it is a clear break from the well-documented slump of 2013.

Such figures are also confirmed when looking at the market from a global perspective. Statistics compiled by semiconductor industry body SEMI show that Japanese silicon wafer production has rebounded in great style; the share of the market held by Japan fell from its 50% level in 2012 and further plummeted to 41% in 2013, but recovered strongly to 48.6% last year (2014) and is therefore just shy of a complete return to form of 50% market share.

Capital investment on the part of the semiconductor device manufacturers has been ‘very active’ says TGR, with the view that it will continue to go along the same lines as last year. An important reason for this is that demand has been rising worldwide for items such as smartphones, tablet computers, and car electronics.

In parallel, demand for argon is rising in Japan. Demand for use in the raising of monocrystalline silicon has recovered and is now at the level of around 45 million m3, a growth of 20-30% and heading for an annual level of 40 million m3. This is significant as argon used for raising monocrystalline silicon for wafers accounts for around 20% of the entire argon demand, says TGR.