“Russia’s War in Ukraine Could Spur Another Global Chip Shortage”
WIRED, February 28, 2022
By Morgan Meaker
“Ukraine is home to half of the world’s neon gas, which is critical for manufacturing semiconductor chips.”
On Thursday morning, explosions rocked at least seven cities in Ukraine, heralding the start of a full-scale Russian invasion. Among Putin’s first targets was Odesa, a seaside city huddled around the Black Sea, and one of the country’s busiest ports. But it is also home to a little-known company called Cryoin, which plays a big role in the global production of semiconductors.
Cryoin makes neon gas, a substance used to power the lasers that etch patterns into computer chips. It supplies companies in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan, but most of its neon is shipped to the US, the company told WIRED. Now analysts are warning that the ripple effects caused by disruption to Cryoin’s supply could be felt around the world.
Cryoin’s production of neon and other gases ground to a halt on Thursday as the invasion began, says business development director Larissa Bondarenko. “We decided that [our employees] should stay at home for the next couple of days until the situation is clearer, to make sure that everyone is safe,” she says, adding there was no damage to the facility as of Monday. Despite plans to restart production over the weekend, missiles over Odesa meant it was still too dangerous. Bondarenko, who lives half an hour away from the site by car, says she has been sleeping in her basement. “Thank God we have one in our house.”
Semiconductors act as the technological brains in our phones, laptops, smart homes, and even cars. The industry is already wrestling with shortages as it struggles to keep up with pandemic demand for devices. In 2021, chip shortages restricted production for almost every major carmaker, with companies like General Motors shutting entire factories as a result. Apple, one of the world’s largest chip buyers, told manufacturers in October that it would make 10 million fewer iPhones in 2021 than planned due to chip shortages, according to Bloomberg.
But Russian aggression in Ukraine is making the industry nervous that these shortages could be intensified by a repeat of 2014, when prices for neon gas spiked by 600 per cent in response to the annexation of Crimea. Last week, US and Japanese governments were scrambling to make sure that will not happen again, pressuring their chip industries to find alternative sources of this obscure gas before it’s too late.
About the Author:
Morgan Meaker is a senior writer at WIRED covering European business. Before that, she was a technology reporter at The Telegraph and also worked for Dutch magazine De Correspondent. In 2019 she won Technology Journalist of the Year at the Words by Women Awards. She was born in Scotland, lives in London, and is a graduate of City University’s International Journalism MA program.