REACH: safe handling of lll-V compound semiconductors

Power electronics of the future cannot be imagined without lll-V semiconductors: Smartphones, LEDs or lasers benefit from the special physical properties of these materials. Under very rare conditions, however, these materials can also cause toxic effects. The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF is therefore elaborating a data basis for the embracing risk assessment of lll-V semiconductors. Thus, potential risks can be avoided along the entire value chain.



© Andreas Franke -

Smartphones, LEDs or lasers without III-V semiconductors? »No way«, is what most of you would respond. Nonetheless, the use of these semiconductors such as gallium arsenide (GaAs) and indium phosphide (InP) is currently being questioned. Although III-V semiconductors like GaAs and InP possess special physical properties that predestine them for applications in the field of (opto-)electronics, they can cause dangerous toxic effects under certain circumstances far from practice. This can happen if they are inhaled as dust. As a result of animal testing, GaAs- and InP-dust was classified as carcinogenic and toxic for reproduction. The production and processing of these semiconductor materials, as well as their processing into (opto)-electronic components, however, takes place under strictly controlled conditions in clean rooms. Only tiny amounts of encapsulated crystalline semiconductors can actually be found in the final components. Therefore, there is no need to fear health risks.

The European regulation REACH (EC No.1907/2006) regulates the production, application and placing on the market of chemicals within the EU. Substances which are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction can be identified as substances of very high concern (SVHC) and are included in the so-called candidate list. The identification of a substance as SVHC is merely based on its potential hazards, independent from actual risk situations. Following a priorisation process SVHC may be included in the authorisation list. These substances are only allowed to be produced, imported and placed on the market within the EU if they have been granted an authorization from the European Chemicals Agency ECHA. The goal of the REACH regulation is to eventually replace SVHC by less dangerous substances or novel technologies – depending on the availability of suitable, economically and technically acceptable alternatives. However, such alternatives for III-V semiconductors do currently not exist and, despite many years of intense research, are not expected to emerge in the future.

The scientific data basis for the risk assessment of III-V semiconductors elaborated by Fraunhofer IAF and its cooperation partners from industry and science is thus aiming at demonstrating to experts at ECHA as well as to political decision-makers that the risk in dealing with GaAs and other semiconductors is under control along the entire supply chain. Additionally, the results of the analyses enhance the essential role these materials play for current and future key technologies.

An authorization procedure for III-V semiconductors in the context of REACH would not result in higher safety, but weaken the competitiveness of European businesses instead: Without III-V semiconductors, many energy-efficient and resource-friendly technologies could not be realized. The achievement of goals such as climate protection would hence become even more challenging. III-V semiconductors have become vital to industry and research – and are thus thoroughly monitored, in order to avoid any risk for applicants and producers.


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