Following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s high-profile visit to the island, China has hit Taiwan with several economic sanctions. Among them is a ban on the export of natural sand to Taiwan, intended to hurt some industries, including semiconductors. However, Chinese media recently revealed that China does not produce the high-purity sand needed for chip manufacturing and instead relies on imports.
On August 3, China’s Ministry of Commerce suspended the export of natural sand to Taiwan. The move was widely seen as part of Beijing’s retaliation for Pelosi’s visit.
Sand is often associated with silicon, the primary ingredient in semiconductor chips. However, silicon is made from high-purity quartz sand that can only be produced in limited countries such as the United States and Australia.
According to a recent article on Chinese online news platform NetEase, China does not produce sand for chip manufacturing and spends more than 1.3 billion yuan (about $192 million) annually importing natural sand. increase.
“Natural sand is the main raw material for chip manufacturing, and many people think that China is rich in such resources, but this is not the case,” the article said.
“Natural sand mainly refers to industrial or construction sand, such as river sand and sea sand. Only quartz sand is used for chip production, which has a high purity of 99.999% silicon content. Even so, a subsequent refining process is required to produce satisfactory silicon wafers.”
The article added that China lacks high-purity quartz sand and that the United States has a near monopoly.
Wang Jiuyi, a researcher at the Mineral Resources Institute of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, said in one of his papers that North Carolina, USA, has the world’s largest known high-purity quartz mine. He added that the state’s spruce pine mining district is the only deposit with raw material reserves in excess of 10 million tons.
China is rich in siliceous resources, but most of the sediments are common silica stone for ordinary glass, stone and construction sand. In addition, there are no mines in China that specialize in the production of high-purity quartz raw materials. As a result, large quantities of high-purity quartz sand, rough stones, and high-end quartz products must be imported every year, Wang said in his paper.
Natural sand is formed primarily by weathering of rocks, a natural process. Rock particles with a particle size of 5 mm or less are widely used in industrial applications such as quartz sand, which is a raw material for semiconductor chips, construction, concrete, machinery, and casting.
The article on NetEase divides China’s natural sand imports and exports into two main categories. Silica sand (also called quartz sand) and other natural sands.
According to reports, China has been importing natural sand since 2014, but at that time imports were lower than exports. In 2018, China’s imports of natural sand exceeded its exports for the first time, as demand for natural sand increased in construction and other industries.
By 2021, China’s natural sand imports will quadruple its exports, reaching an annual import value of more than 1.3 billion yuan (about $192 million).
In the first half of 2022, China’s imports of silica sand (and quartz sand) alone reached 2.012 million tons, with a total value of 680 million yuan (about $101 million).
Meanwhile, the highest monthly export value in 2022 was only 1.297 million yuan (about $192,000).
The report states that the ore used by Chinese quartz giant Jiangsu Pacific Quartz Co., Ltd. to refine high-purity quartz sand is mainly sourced from abroad, with imports expected to grow to 90% by 2020. has been reached. High-purity quartz raw ore.
“You should know that Jiangsu Pacific Quartz is the only company in China that can produce high-purity quartz sand on a large scale. …It basically represents the entire domestic industry. , the key to the raw material is in someone else’s hands.”
Taiwan: limited impact
Following China’s suspension of natural sand exports, Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs said China’s reliance on sand and gravel this year will drop significantly regardless of the ban, with China’s natural sand imports dropping by 1%. said to be less than
The ministry said domestic production capacity is now self-sufficient and the ban is expected to have little impact on related industries, with Taiwan’s imports of sand and gravel from China peaking in 2016 and declining since then. I added that there is.
According to the Department of Mines, imported natural sand in 2021 will account for about 0.75% of Taiwan’s annual domestic demand, or 540,000 tons. And in 2021, only 170,000 tonnes were sourced from China. Moreover, this year he had only about 20,000 tons of natural sand imported from China from January to June, and the impact was minimal.