Silicon metal production and pricing has recovered driven by base industries, electronics, and Photovoltaic (PV) solar demand.
What about the Globe Specialty Metals and Dow Corning deal?
Dow Corning has been quiet about Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon (UMG-Si).
Propelling metallurgical silicon (mg-Si) back into the spotlight, Timminco Limited (TSE:TIM) announced “Timminco Pursuing Opportunities to Expand Silicon Metal Production” on Tuesday followed by “Timminco Announces Long-Term Contracts for Silicon Metal Supply” backing their exploratory greenfield plans for a geothermal powered, 50000 MT (Metric Ton) silicon metal production facility in Iceland with a silicon metal supply contract for 90000 MT over five (5) years to an existing customer.
Silicon metal supply contracts and production expansion are but the latest signals of demand recovery for the commodity raw material from aluminum, chemical, and polysilicon for the electronics and PV industries. In fact, silicon metal is a primary feedstock for every polysilicon, solar grade silicon, or UMG-Si production process except one. Per the charts below from MetalPrices.com, 98.5% pure chemical grade type silicon metal pricing in dollars per kilogram ($/kg) has had a slight rebound in the US and a strong recovery in low cost China, a subject of antidumping reviews.
While Timminco subsidiary, Bécancour Silicon Inc. (BSI), restarted “the third of its three electric arc furnaces” in October 2009, Globe Specialty Metals, Inc. (NASDAQ:GSM) restarted silicon metal production in Niagara Falls, New York USA, last November and in Selma, Alabama USA, January 2010.
In “Want Cheaper Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon? Head to New York” by Ucilia Wang for Greentech Media, Globe Specialty Metals’ $60 Million investment to restart the 30000 MT Niagara Falls silicon metal facility and build a 4000 MT UMG-Si processing plant grabbed all the attention.
Globe Specialty Metals and Dow Corning
However, earlier in November, “Globe Specialty Metals Closes Two Major Transactions With Dow Corning” or “Dow Corning acquires U.S. and Brazilian silicon metal manufacturing assets” did not resonate in solar circles. The transaction press releases emphasized the acquisition of Globe Metais Indústria e Comércio S.A., in Pará, Brazil (now Dow Corning Metais do Pará Ltda), and a 49 percent stake in Globe’s WVA Manufacturing LLC in Alloy, West Virginia USA, was for the production of chemical grade silicon metal.
Although Dow Corning Corporation “relies on chemical grade silicon as an essential raw material to manufacture nearly all of its more than 7,000 products”, I observe the Alloy, West Virginia, silicon metal facility could minimize transport logistics to Hemlock Semiconductor Group’s $1.2 Billion, 10000 MT polysilicon plant under construction some 445 miles away in Clarksville, Tennessee USA.
Likewise, I postulate the Brazilian silicon metal facility Dow Corning acquired might supply or enable reallocation of local silicon metal supplies for UMG-Si production.
At PHOTON’s 7th Solar Silicon Conference, Dow Corning Global Industry Director Solar Solutions Dr. Gaëtan Borgers said:
I am glad to already announce that we have now launched our next generation material, Dow Corning® PV-1201.
PV-1201 is supposed to have half the impurities of Dow Corning’s PV-1101 SoG (Solar Grade) Silicon but the 2 ppmw (part per million by weight) Boron concentration still requires polysilicon blend ratios of at least a three to one (3:1). Acknowledging this, Dr. Gaëtan Borgers said:
If you want to use UMG at 100%, it will be necessary to go below 0.5 ppmw of Boron and below 1 ppmw of Phosphorus.
As a result of the recession, Dow Corning expected to delay the next expansion of UMG-Si production capacity to 10000 MT until after 2010 based on customer demand. Focusing on yield improvement and the launch of PV-1201, Dr. Borgers said:
Obviously we are not there yet, but what I want to highlight is that by the end of this year, we intend to be at the 1 ppm level.
Before the 24th EU PVSEC, I asked Dow Corning for an update on PV-1201. In a polite way, Dow Corning told me the material development was proprietary, and only existing customers would get progress updates. Over five months later, Dow Corning won’t answer the same question, and information still cannot be found regarding PV-1201 or even a mention the product name, “PV-1201”, on the Dow Corning website.
So where and what is up with PV-1201? I guess Dow Corning will bless us all with an update at PHOTON’s 8th Solar Silicon Conference in Stuttgart on April 27, 2010.