Sunways goes its own Silicon ways – Part 2

Interview with CEO Roland Burkhardt at Intersolar 2007

In Sunways goes its own Silicon ways – Part 1, I examined the basic facts regarding Sunways’ entry into polysilicon production. While trichlorosilane (TCS) sourcing and co-location may seem like the biggest challenges facing Sunways AG (FRA:SWW), obtaining expertise to design, construct, and operate their polysilicon deposition production facility is the single most critical factor to success.

Thus far, Sunways has disclosed SolMic GmbH as a lone firm among other suppliers. Who is SolMic and why is it straight forward to conclude SolMic is the primary consulting firm to Sunways on this project?

SolMic was founded by Dr. Albrecht Mozer and Dr. Peter Fath in 2005

to offer various consulting and engineering services related to photovoltaics and microelectronics industry with a special focus on polysilicon production facilities

after Dr. Mozer was removed on November 5, 2004, from the executive management of Siltronic AG (Siltronic stärkt Marktausrichtung auf 300 mm Wafer), a Wacker Chemie AG (FRA:WCH) subsidiary, under the pretext of focusing corporate strategy on 300mm semiconductor wafers.

SolMic is in turn a 50% subsidiary of GP Solar GmbH, a company Dr. Fath cofounded in 1999 for solar cell processing and characterization consulting and technology transfer. GP Solar partnered with system manufacturer Centrotherm to commercialize solar cell processing technologies developed by the PV (Photovoltaic) research team at the University of Konstanz. GP Solar has consulting References with a Who’s Who list of photovoltaic companies in Germany, Europe, and around the world including Sunways.

So what are SolMic’s polysilicon project credentials to date?

In this PHOTON EXPO 4th Solar Silicon Conference abstract, Silicon factory planning based on Siemens reactors: Status and future challenges, SolMic claimed to have signed contracts to built 5000 metric tons per year of Siemens process polysilicon production capacity. In addition, SolMic has a consulting contract to build a MG-SoG (Metallurgical to Solar Grade) polysilicon plant per Scheuten Solar moves into own production of solar silicon. As a result, Scheuten SolarWorld Solizium GmbH is a joint venture formed between Scheuten Solar and SolarWorld AG to produce Solar Grade Silicon at a location in Freiberg, Germany, near the Deutsche Solar AG Business Unit SolarMaterial. A PHOTON International article reprint (PI 9/2006, p. 58-60 +61 missing?) about SolMic, Robin Hoods of PV, is available from the Scheuten website.

The next point concerns the formation of Centrotherm SiQ GmbH by SolMic and Centrotherm to produce Siemens process reactors and converters. Could Centrotherm be the supplier of these reactors to Sunways? I thought I had read about this connection somewhere, but this may be pure conjecture as I cannot find a corroborating source. If you want to learn more about polysilicon production equipment, the Poly Plant Project, Inc. has background information about Polysilicon Deposition Reactors and Thermal Converters.

Having explored the SolMic connection in digressive detail, Sunways’ strategy to purchase TCS simplifies their polysilicon project by lowering capital expenditures but adds risk in terms of steady supply and complicates the recycling of gas byproducts from the decomposition of TCS in the polysilicon deposition reactors. Recycling these gas byproducts is crucial to produce low cost polysilicon. Perhaps TCS recycling or the pilot scale 300 metric ton production capacity or both are contributing factors to the high estimate of polysilicon production costs below €45 per kilogram.

With SolMic, Sunways has the right technology partner to succeed at polysilicon production once the TCS sourcing and plant location issues are resolved. I admire Herr Burkhardt’s determination to enter polysilicon production in a staged manner without lining up every aspect of the project in advance.

But, I believe Sunways must plan for success and build their facility to accommodate 1000 metric tons of polysilicon production per year from the start with allowances for future expansion. Sun
ways should exercise the option on five more reactors to expand polysilicon production once the pilot process is proven. Although I am sure Herr Burkhardt is favoring plant locations in Germany with eastern Germany leading because of government incentives, I recommend he also consider sites outside of Germany, perhaps in southwestern or eastern Europe. A viable option outside of Germany is the best way to insure any German TCS negotiations are competitive.

Alas, the efforts of Sunways in the automotive space will have to wait for a follow up post.

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