Wacker pulls plug on Schott JV, solar wafers

Citing a desire to refocus further up the polysilicon-supply foodchain where it sees more profitability, Wacker is pulling out of its solar wafer joint venture with Schott Solar AG.

October 1, 2009 – Citing a desire to refocus further up the supply chain where it sees more profitability polysilicon-supply camp, Wacker is pulling out of its joint venture with Schott Solar AG, choosing to take about a €50M hit on its books plus about €65M in debt.

The JV, Wacker Schott Solar, was formed to utilize two silicon growth processes. Its ingot technology involves melting hyperpure silicon in crucibles and casting multicrystalline silicon ingots by directional solidification — i.e., casting a block of Si and sawing wafers out of it. The other process, dubbed “EFG,” draws the silicon melt directly from the metal into an octagonal tube, which is then laser-sliced into multicrystalline wafers.

Silicon-loss-minimizing processes like EFG and other ribbon-forming methods were more attractive when silicon prices were high — but with materials prices down -60% or more in the past year, that’s less of an issue. “In light of the current price developments with respect to silicon and solar wafers, ingot technology has now proven to be a more economical process,” said Patrick Markschläger, managing director of Wacker Schott Solar, in a statement. “Focusing on hyperpure polysilicon production provides an excellent base for our long-term competitiveness and profitability,” added Wacker Group CEO Rudolf Staudigl.

As part of the deal, Schott will take over the JV’s newly commissioned plant in Jena, a converted former calcium-fluoride operation serving semiconductor suppliers, which utilizes the silicon ingot technology. The site had been projected to soak up €300M in investments and ramp from 275MW in 2009 to 1GW by 2012 — but with the Wacker split, Schott says it is evaluating “additional steps that are deemed to be necessary in order to reduce manufacturing costs.” A facility in Alzenau worked on the EFG technology, but officials claim there will be “no effect on cell and module manufacturing” there, as lost wafer volumes will be made up by poly wafers and modules made from monocrystalline cells.

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