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Polysilicon shortage could extend to 2012

Posted: 21 Feb 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:polysilicon? solar cell? Sharp? Sanyo? Hoku Materials?

Polysilicon shortage in the booming solar cell sector is expected to last until 2008 or longer. Some even say the problem could extend out to 2012.

Leading polysilicon vendors Hemlock, MEMC, Mitsubishi, Tokuyama and Wacker cannot keep up with the huge demand, despite recent moves to expand capacity. The urgent need for polysilicon material, which is central to the production of conventional solar cells and is used to some degree for thin-film cells as well, has prompted several other companies to enter the market, including Hoku Materials and the world's largest solar cell maker, Sharp Corp.

The market is so ripe that Hoku recently signed two big polysilicon supply contractswith solar cell makers Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd and Solar-Fabrik AGwithout first breaking ground on a production facility. The subsidiary of fuel cell developer Hoku Scientific Inc. plans to build a $220 million polysilicon plant in Pocatello, Idaho, but the site won't move into production until late 2008.

Sharp moved its Toyama site into polysilicon production in January, at an initial investment of $41.1 million. The move gives Sharp an integrated production system ranging from polysilcon to solar cells and solar modules. Sharp is the only solar cell maker to produce its own polysilicon.

While the solar industry has been the first to feel the pinch of the polysilicon shortage, it is not the only volume polysilicon user. The material is the key ingredient of both solar cells and raw silicon wafers for ICs, although different grades of the material are produced for the two industries.

Supplies of wafer-grade polysilicon have remained sufficient thus far, and the good news for the solar-cell industry is that growth in the IC industry is expected to be modest in 2007, followed by a possible slowdown in 2008.

But if the IC market moves into a steep and unforeseen upswing, the polysilicon supply-and-demand picture could become even more chaoticif not catastrophic.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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