Production of polycrystalline silicon (polysilicon) has begun at Hemlock Semiconductor Corp.’s new facility – the single largest in the world – in the Michigan town of the same name. The new plant will produce some 9,000 metric tons of polysilicon a year, bringing the Hemlock facility’s total annual capacity to approximately 19,000 metric tons by the end of this year.
Producers of high-grade silicon are going flat out to meet growing demand. “Delivering polysilicon from our new facility as quickly as possible was essential to meet our customers’ expectations,” Rick Doornbos, Hemlock Semiconductor president and CEO, said in a press release. “These customers have put a lot of faith in us and the additional quantities of silicon feedstock will enable them to advance solar technology throughout the globe.”
Meeting Growing Demand for High-Purity Polysilicon
A joint venture between Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Shin-Etsu Handotai Co. Ltd. and operated by majority partner Dow Corning Corp., Hemlock announced late last year that it would invest US$1.5 billion to expand capacity at the Michigan plant in order to meet growing and firm demand for high-purity polysilicion from its customers, mainly expanding solar photovoltaic (PV) and semiconductor manufacturers.
“Hemlock Semiconductor’s more-than 40 years of technical and manufacturing expertise to supply high-purity polysilicon to the semiconductor and solar industries was critical to our successful construction and operation of this new, world-class operation,” Doornbos said. “We are proud of our team for successfully completing this expansion on-time and within budget.”
Hemlock Semi expects the solar PV industry to grow at a 20-25% rate during the next 10 years. Today, solar energy accounts for approximately 10% of all renewable energy produced, according to company provided figures.
Hemlock is working on an additional expansion that it expects will raise capacity at the Michigan plant to 36,000 tons by the end of 2011. It also continues to search for a second location and potential site for a new manufacturing facility
Solar PV & Semiconductors
“The whole point of both these initiatives is to add capacity, due in large part to high demand for HSC’s solar grade polysilicon. The business case for the expansion plans is coming from the solar industry, but HSC’s expertise is based in electronics. We don’t want to forget about our customers in that sector either, so we are trying to build in some flexibility for ourselves by constructing facilities capable of producing polysilicon products for both markets,” spokesperson Jarrod Erpelding said in a December 2006 interview for Resource Investor.
Currently constrained, the Prometheus Institute forecasts that new production capacity and supply will alleviate tight supply-demand conditions and bring down prices and costs for solar PV manufacturers.
“Our research shows that the availability of polysilicon will double between 2006 and 2008, and triple between 2006 and 2010, which means that the amount available for solar will quadruple by 2010. Given that producers are also using it more efficiently, we can expect an effective quintupling in the amount of PV (photovoltaics) that can be produced by the end of the decade,” Travis Bradford, a former hedge fund executive, now founder and director of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, said in an interview.