Polysilicon or refined silicon is the raw material behind most of the world’s consumer electronics.Polysilicon is used to make both solar and semiconductor silicon wafers.Silicon wafers are used in making chips which are used by the Intels and Samsungs of the world while Solar Wafers are used in making solar crystalline panels used in generating electricity from the sun.Most of the world’s major solar energy companies use c-Si Technology in making solar panels.Polysilicon is an energy intensive process which requires cheap electricity.The polysilicon is produced mostly in the western countries like Japan,USA and Germany now.However the rise of solar panel producers in Asia has given rise to large volume Asian producers of polysilicon as well.Note Polysilicon production is concentrated in the hands of 8 companies unlike solar panel production which is done by hundreds of companies.This is a capital intensive process and requires around 2 years to complete a single plant.Semiconductors require higher purity levels of Polysilicon than the solar industry.The massive increase in demand from the solar industry has led to massive growth in poly production.Here are a list of the main polysilicon companies in the world
1) Hemlock Semiconductor (HSG) – This a a privately held company which is a JV between Shin-Etsu Handotai,Dow Corning and Mitsubishi.Hemlock has the largest poly production capacity in the world and has been trying to rapidly raise capacity to meet growing solar demands.However it has not grown fast enough.
2)Wacker Chemie– This German chemicals conglomerate as increased plant capacities rapidly in Germany and is expanding in the USA as well.Wacker has the majority of its profits coming from it nearly 25000 ton polysilicon capacity.It is one of the world’s major producers of semiconductor wafers as well so uses some of the poly inhouse while selling the rest to Asian customers mostly.
3) OCI Chemical – This Korean chemicals company has seen the most spectacular rise in the poly business and has ambitions of becoming the No.1 player in 2012 overtaking both Wacker and Hemlock.Primarily targeting the solar market,the Korean company has plans of reaching 62,000 tons of polysilicon capacity at its plant in South Korea.Formerly known as DC Chemicals it started production only 3-4 years ago in partnership with Sunpower.
4) Renewable Energy Corporation – This Norwegian Producer was the largest solar wafer producer till a few years ago when it lost its leadership to the Chinese.It is now expanding in Singapore to reduce its high cost and integrating vertically. REC is also one of the biggest producers of Silane Gas which is used in making polysilicon.Like MEMC,it uses both the FBR and Siemens process in producing polysilcon.It has plants in USA
5) MEMC – The only big American solar wafer producer is building a wafer factory in Malaysia to reduce costs.The company is one of the biggest manufacturers of semi wafers as well.Like GCL Poly,it is also expanding into the solar systems business without getting into cell and module production.MEMC has old plants in USA and Italy and is now expanding in South Korea in JV with Samsung.
6) GCL Poly – This Chinese company has become one the biggest producers of polysilicon and wafers in 2010 from zero in 2008.Is expanding rapidly but not getting into production of solar cells and panels.The company is also on its way to becoming a Top 3 producer of polysilicon and is expanding by co-locating wafer plants near its customer factories.Has singed massive long term deals with most of the biggest solar panel producers in the world.
7) LDK Solar -This is the biggest producer of solar wafers that are used by crystalline solar panels but is losing its No.1 position to GCL Poly.Is expanding rapidly into other parts of the solar supply chain and could break into top 10 solar panel producer in the next couple of years.The company ran into a lot of debt troubles in expanding its poly plant to 15000 tons but has seemed to return on track in late 2010.
8) Tokuyama – This Japanese producer has been in the game for long but has been the slowest in expanding capacity.Its building a new plant in Malaysia but its capacity has been dwarfed by newer players in Asia like OCI Chemicals.It has missed out on a huge oppurtunity.The company mainly supplies to semi wafer companies .
Besides these 8 Top Companies there are a number of other smaller important poly companies like M.Setek,KCC,Renesola,Yingli Energy,Mitsubishi.Note the 2008 polysilicon price jump to $400/kg led to a number of new entrants but most of the players disappeared in the ensuing post Lehman crash as prices crashed.