Monday, May 5, 2008

Polysilicon Shortage --> Think Film + mSi

With polysilicon shortages extending at least through the rest of the year, it is not surprising that we are thin film technologies continue to buzz. Another alternative has emerged--metallurgical silicon. But a little more on that later.

Some analysts forecasts explosive growth of 70% CAGR in the thin film sector from 2007 through 2010. Indeed, not only did thin film behemoth First Solar report record earnings last week, we have also seen a flurry of thin film deal announcements:

A European engineer at the 6th Solar Silicon Conference in Munich, Germany, April 1-3, 2008 says it best:

People have laughed about thin film, now they don't laugh anymore, and in two to three years you will see First Solar as biggest thin film producer going through the roof. Imagine the decline in silicon usage with thin film.

Metallurgical Silicon
Rather than discard silicon altogether, some companies are replacing polysilcion with metallurgical grade silicon (mSi). Q-cells, among the word's top solar module manufacturers, is taking a step in that direction by using mSi , almost exclusively at an upcoming 160 MW Line VII of its 300 MW solar cell facility in Malaysia. The mSi will be supplied by Becancour Silicon, a division of Timminco.

Metallurgical-grade Silicon

According to this article,

Metallurgical-grade silicon is vastly cheaper to produce and ramp than polysilicon. Granted, the purity levels are lower and efficiencies suffer, but development work at Becancour Silicon has shown that impurity levels have been reduced dramatically in only a few years, especially in relation to boron, carbon and oxygen levels.

Besides Timminco, this piece on Seeking Alpha highlights other companies, such as Dow Corning, Elkem Solar and Global Speciality Metals, that are also getting into the mSi game.

Just how what kind of efficiencies do mSi-based solar panels have? I can't say for sure yet; my canvass of abstracts of scientific articles on the web suggest anywhere between the 8 to 10% range (which is comparable to thin film cells in real-life, i.e. non-lab, conditions), but I have not been able to confirm if these are in lab or real-life conditions. I hope to uncover more insight for you in future posts.

1 comment:

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