Leaner Polysilicon Industry Poised for Rebound

22.11.2012 -

(CHEManager Europe 10/2012)       Supply and Demand
After a shakeout of nearly 40 manufacturers, the polysilicon industry will slowly recover from oversupply by 2014. 2015 could already see the harbingers of a new polysilicon shortage. With accelerating demand, a new polysilicon shortage could loom in as soon as three to four years (Fig. 1). This is one of the conclusions of a new market research report, which Bernreuter Research presented during the 27th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, in September. Polysilicon, the feedstock for the semiconductor and photovoltaic (PV) industries, glutted the market in 2011 when the annual production volume of 255,000 metric tons (mt) exceeded demand by 25,000 mt.

Photovoltaic Industry Demand
The scenario of future demand which Bernreuter Research has developed is more aggressive than forecasts of other analysts. Several indicators point to new PV system installations of up to 37.5 gigawatts (GW) in 2012 with a base-case scenario of 36 GW, according to Johannes Bernreuter, head of Bernreuter Research and author of the report titled "The 2012 Who's Who of Solar Silicon Production" ( The market researcher examined 72 analyst forecasts made about global PV installations from 2008 through 2011. He found that the forecast average remained more than 30% below the actual results.

Global Polysilicon Production
The report provides production volumes and end-of-year capacities for 82 polysilicon and UMG (upgraded metallurgical-grade) silicon plants and projects from 2009 through 2015. It highlights the market shares of the top ten manufacturers and the distribution of the global production volume by world region. Fig. 2 shows clearly that the polysilicon production moves from Europe and the Americas to Southeast Asia. South Korea and China will be the new powerhouses of polysilicon production by 2015. Other Emerging Countries will also increase production capacities significantly but from currently very low production volumes. Incumbent manufacturers will set up new plants in these emerging regions, but new entrants and aspirants from the Americas, Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Russia & the Commonwealth of Independent States, India and the Arabian Peninsula will diversify the manufacturer landscape. This will lead to a decrease of the market shares of the Top-10 and Top-4 polysilicon manufacturers in the years to come (Fig. 3).

Production Technologies
Bernreuter Research has thoroughly assessed the progress of ten polysilicon production methods. While most of the new approaches will not make it into commercial production, monosilane-based technologies show promise as serious rivals to the established Siemens process as they have low energy consumption and yield polysilicon of high purity. Another alternative, upgraded metallurgical-grade (UMG) silicon still has to prove its value proposition.

Solar Cell Efficiency
The supply/demand balance is also influenced by the specific silicon consumption of solar cell production. With solar cell production technologies getting more efficient, the silicon consumption per output power (GW) will drop (Fig. 4). The report predicts that by 2016, solar cells will only need 5.1 g silicon per watt, down from 8.0 in 2008 and 6.3 in 2012.