Solar

Development at Dow Corning Could Ease Silicon Shortage

Dow Corning Corporation announced the development of PV 1101 SoG Silicon, the first commercially available metallurgical feedstock produced using large scale manufacturing processes. The announcement was made at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Dresden, Germany.

Rudy Miller, Global Market Manager for Photovoltaics at Dow Corning Solar Solutions, said that the product and the manufacturing process is a breakthrough for the solar industry. “Our process [for manufacturing metallurgical silicon] is industrial, and that is something that nobody else has been able to do. There’s been some lab work publicized, there’s some pilot lines out there, but we’ve got the only industrial facility operating,” said Miller. That could be just what the industry needs. Over the last four years, demand for silicon has far exceeded production capabilities. This year will be the same. According to “The Gun has Gone Off,” a solar market report from Photon Consulting’s Michael Rogol, the solar market’s 2006 demand is for 5 gigawatts (GW) of power. But because of silicon feedstock constraints, the industry will only be able to produce between 2.2 and 2.4 GW. PV 1101 needs to be distributed quickly in order to ease the silicon shortage, said Ted Ciszek, a national silicon consultant who once worked for the Dow Corning Corporation. “If they can get the product to market fast enough and if there’s a substantial cost advantage, then it will most likely have an impact,” Ciszek said. “The silicon shortage may not be as big a problem in two to three years, so it’s important that the product go out now.” Dow Corning has already allocated its initial supply of PV 1101 to select customers. Representatives from the company would not comment on which customers received the material or how much was shipped due to nondisclosure agreements. However, they did say that demand has exceeded their supply capabilities. PV 1101 is not a replacement for traditional silicon. It must be blended with polysilicon to remain suitable for PV cells. According to Dow Corning, the typical amount of metallurgical silicon in their tested PV cells is 10%. Miller said that customers had a higher blend in some cases based upon their business model and technology, but he did not comment on specific percentages. The company hopes that continued development of metallurgical silicon will help the solar market expand. PV 1101 is only the beginning, said Gaetan Borgers, Director of Dow Corning Solar Solutions. “This product is an option for further growth. We want to gradually gain confidence in our process. Our customers will help us understand the capability of PV 1101, and eventually we will have more generations of this product.” The silicon production facility is located in Santos Dumont, Brazil. It is run by Companhia Brasileira Carbureto de Calcio (CBCC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Corning.