A U.S. solar company has teamed up with the world’s largest producer of silicon metal, in an effort to reduce the cost of material needed by the solar energy industry.
NEWARK, Delaware – AstroPower, Inc. has signed a technical cooperation agreement with Elkem of Norway to develop a low-cost process for the production of silicon, the raw material used to make photovoltaic (PV) cells. The agreement includes the future establishment of a jointly-owned manufacturing venture to supply low-cost silicon feedstock to the global solar power industry. That venture would be based in Norway and managed by Elkem. “Elkem and AstroPower have been working together on the development of feedstock for AstroPower since February 1998,” says AstroPower president Allen Barnett. “However, research and development in the area of solar-grade silicon began long before that within both organizations.” “By combining several key proprietary process technologies we have separately developed, we now believe that we have designed and demonstrated an integrated production process that will enable us to produce large volumes of cost-effective solar-grade silicon feedstock for the entire solar power industry,” he explains. “This agreement delineates the path forward from final process development through establishment of a manufacturing joint venture.” The solar energy industry currently uses silicon by-products from the semiconductor industry to produce their PV cells, and the limited availability and high price of solar-grade silicon feedstock have constrained growth in the solar industry. This international alliance will remove a fundamental barrier to widespread adoption of solar power by developing a dedicated source of low-cost solar-grade silicon feedstock for the solar industry. The two companies estimate that the annual market for solar-grade silicon is $75 million now, and will grow at 25 to 30 percent over the next five years. “We expect that this partnership will be very significant, not only in supporting AstroPower’s continued rapid capacity growth, but also in allowing the solar power industry at large to move beyond the growth constraints imposed by the current supply of appropriate raw material,” says Ole Enger, president and CEO of Elkem. “As a world leader in the manufacturing and science of silicon, we’ve made a commitment to protect the environment. This venture allows us to apply our proprietary technology toward solving an important problem for the solar power industry and, thus, make a significant long-term environmental contribution.” AstroPower is based in Newark, Delaware, and claims to be the world’s largest independent manufacturer of PV products and one of the world’s fastest growing solar electric power companies. The company manufactures and sells PV cells, modules, panels and systems for generating electric power from the sun in both off-grid and on-grid applications. Last November, it was selected by Industry Week magazine as one of the 25 most successful small manufacturers in the U.S. Elkem is the world’s largest producer of silicon metal for the aluminum, chemical, electronic and solar industry, and is the western world’s major supplier of ferrosilicon. Silicon metal is produced at Elkem Alloy in West Virginia and at the Elkem Bremanger, Elkem Fiskaa Silicon, Elkem Meraker and Elkem Thamshavn plants in Norway.