Powering the AI Age: PPO, the Rising Star in High-Speed Server Materials

1. PPO has emerged as the preeminent material in the epoch of AI servers.
Electronic polyphenylene ether resin (PPO) boasts outstanding dielectric properties, elevated thermal stability, commendable dimensional steadiness, and minimal water absorption. It stands as a pivotal foundational resin for high-velocity copper-clad laminates. With the escalating requisites for high-speed signal conveyance in servers and allied domains, high-velocity copper-clad laminates are progressively assuming the mantle of mainstream prerequisites for astute servers, with the efficacy of PPO serving as the principal foundational material constituent of M6-M8 grade copper-clad laminates. Leading copper-clad laminate enterprises have unfurled their high-velocity copper-clad laminate resolutions grounded in PPO resin.

Per pertinent market analysis, the global demand for electronic-grade polyphenylene ether is anticipated to hover around 1,000 tons by the denouement of 2022. Propelled by AI servers and analogous domains, the global appetite for PPO for high-velocity copper-clad laminates is poised to burgeon to roughly 8,000 tons by 2026, with the vendible price soaring up to 800,000 yuan per ton.

Polyphenylene ether epitomizes a linear, amorphous, high-temperature-resistant thermoplastic resin. Inaugurated in 1957, it was primordially procured via the polymerization of 2,6-dimethylphenol by General Plastics (GE) through the oxidative coupling technique. Possessing a relative molecular weight ranging from 25,000 to 30,000, industrial-scale production was realized by 1965.

2. PPO manufacturing titans: Sabic reigns supreme
(1) Sabic
The global purveyance of electronic-grade PPO resin has been perennially dominated by SABIC. In 2008, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) acquired General Electric’s engineering plastics arm (GE Plastic) for a staggering sum of US$11.6 billion, encompassing GE’s PPO undertaking, now under SABIC’s aegis. Flaunting the most comprehensive array of PPO alloy variants globally, boasting an annual output capacity approximating 135,000 tons per annum. The electronic grade PPO is also enshrined within this business enclave, with its manufacturing facilities nestled in North America.

Around 2012, Sabic unveiled diminutive molecular weight PPO Noryl TM SA-90 and SA-9000 onto the market fray, poised to function as adjuncts in both epoxy and non-epoxy thermosetting regimes.

NorylTM SA-90

Noryl TM SA-90 delineates a bifunctional hydroxyl-terminated poly(phenylene ether) oligomer, primed for interaction with epoxy, cyanate, and urethane thermosets. Its applications span the electronics, coatings, adhesives, and composites sectors. Prime application domains encompass the electronic packaging sphere, inclusive of PCB laminates, copper clad laminates, epoxy prepregs, and sundry other coatings and composite materials.

Noryl™ SA9000 resin represents a bifunctional methacrylate-terminated polyphenylene ether oligomer, ideally aligned for amalgamation with other unsaturated monomers and resins, catalyzed by free radical polymerization. Compatible unsaturated monomers or resins encompass styrene, allyl, acrylic acid, maleimide, methacrylic acid, et al.

NorylTM SA-9000

Noryl™ SA9000 resin finds utility in copper-clad laminate compositions within HSD circuit boards and adhesive sheets (prepregs). The methacrylic functional groups situated at the chain termini augur well for the reaction efficiency between PPE and cross-linking agents. Beyond cross-linking agents, NORYL™ SA9000 resin finds applicability in formulations encompassing copolymerizable hydrocarbon resins, such as styrene-butadiene block copolymer, styrene-isoprene block copolymer, 1.2-polybutadiene, 1,4-polybutadiene, maleic acid-modified polybutadiene, acrylic acid-modified polybutadiene, and epoxy-modified polybutadiene.

Copper-clad boards and laminates are prepared utilizing E-glass cloth (7628) and 1┬Żoz copper foil. Adhesives comprising the formulations delineated in Table 4 were concocted in toluene. Thereafter, the glass cloth is impregnated with resin. Subsequently, the resin-impregnated glass cloth is suspended in the hood overnight, followed by B-stage curing in the oven, adhering to the process outlined in Table 4, with toluene extraction. The resultant prepregs are subsequently laminated, with copper foil being applied atop and beneath the prepreg.

(2) Japanese enterprises
Japanese enterprises were at the vanguard of PPO development and application, with prominent entities encompassing Hitachi Chemical and Asahi Kasei.

Hitachi Chemical primarily harnesses molecular weight redistribution augmentation technology (p-aminophenol) to introduce an imide five-membered heterocyclic architecture into the polyphenylene ether backbone. The molecular weight of the polyphenylene ether compound is modulated via adjusting the dosage of phenolic compounds imbued with primary amine groups, whereby an escalation in aminophenol dosage tends to precipitate a decrement in the molecular weight of the polyphenylene ether compound.

Asahi Kasei’s electronic grade PPO, under the trade moniker Xyron TM, is predicated on infusing allyl active groups into the PPO primary structure, thereby effectuating the direct synthesis of thermosetting PPO resin. The incorporation of allyl groups furnishes the material with an optimal curing temperature sans the emission of small molecule volatiles during the curing process.

3. Which indigenous enterprises are advancing towards industrialization?
Domestic electronic-grade polyphenylene oxide (PPO) materials entered the developmental arena relatively tardily. Presently, the principal players in this arena encompass the Shengquan Group, Hongchang Electronics, Nantong Xingchen, Dongcai Technology, Hebei Jianxin, and other entities.

(1) Shengquan Group: Esteemed as a premier entity in phenolic resin and casting materials within China, Shengquan Group stands as a pivotal supplier of electronic-grade phenolic resin and electronic-grade epoxy resin. Pioneering large-scale provision of electronic-grade PPO within China, Shengquan boasts an existing annual production capacity of 300 tons. Their clientele includes renowned server manufacturers domestically and internationally. Reports indicate the construction of an additional production line with an annual capacity of 1,000 tons, slated for inauguration and market entry by 2024.

(2) Hongchang Electronics: A mainland-listed company with Taiwanese investment, Hongchang Electronics primarily specializes in electronic epoxy resin. It ranks among the earliest domestic enterprises dedicated to PPO product research, development, and production. The company’s plans encompass a high-frequency and high-speed resin project with an annual output target of 500 tons, inclusive of PPO-related items. Hongchang Electronics has garnered Intel certification for high-frequency, high-speed boards, utilizing internally developed PPO polyphenylene ether materials. Presently, their PPO-related products are in mass production and supply, with continued quantitative expansion in progress.

(3) Nantong Xingchen: A subsidiary of the Sinochem Group, Nantong Xingchen focuses on engineering plastics production, featuring products such as PBT, epoxy resin, polyphenylene ether, among others. With a polyphenylene ether engineering plastics production capacity of around 50,000 tons per annum, the company has initiated a pilot production line for electronic-grade PPO, supplying small batches to downstream customers.

(4) Hebei Jianxin Biotechnology: Leveraging the low molecular weight PPO production technology from the R&D team of Kunshan Jujineng New Materials Co., Ltd., Hebei Jianxin Biotechnology crafts bishydroxyl oligomeric resin JJN9000. Presently, the nominal production capacity stands at 1,000 tons per annum, with batches already supplied to customers.

(5) Dongcai Technology: Disclosed plans outline an “annual production capacity of 5,200 tons of special resin materials for high-frequency and high-speed printed circuit boards project,” encompassing a 1,000-ton polyphenylene ether production capacity. Currently, Dongcai Technology possesses pilot production capacity for PPO and has commenced small batch supply. Future endeavors aim for industrialization in accordance with market demand.

Moreover, numerous other entities are actively involved in PPO material development. Progress evaluations indicate Shengquan, Dongcai, Hebei Jianxin, Nantong Xingchen, Hongchang Electronics, and other enterprises are poised to secure a substantial market share amidst this surge in PPO material demand. Nonetheless, a discernible gap persists between domestic electronic-grade polyphenylene ether and overseas counterparts, necessitating sustained efforts from pertinent enterprises to address this discrepancy.

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