What Is Silicon And Where Do I Use It?
- Silicon metal (symbol Si), in its pure form, is a grey metallically lustrous metalloid element. Metallurgical grade silicon is known as silicon metal because of its lustrous appearance.
- Silicon is used mainly in the manufacture of silanes and silicones, as a “hardener” or alloying element to produce aluminium alloys, and in the manufacture of micro-processors and solar cells.
- Silicon is also used as a secondary smelting additive in the manufacture of photonic devices and in the manufacture of industrial refractories.
- Silicon metal is commonly produced by smelting submerged electric arc furnaces, which is an energy-intensive process. Further processing of the material into different product grades makes it applicable in many industry processes.
- The industry is investing in R&D, a.o. for the development of high value silicon bound to the photovoltaic market, and in the battery applications.
Where is Silicon Produced?
- China has a dominant position in Silicon metal production (61% of the total refined production on average in the period 2010-2014, data from BGS, 2016). This production is not only well above the domestic consumption but also well above the total world demand for Silicon metal. Chinese silicon capacity reached 4.6 million tons (source CNIA).
- Brazil, Australia, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Thailand are other producers outside of Europe, as well as the US.
- Within Europe, the producing countries are France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Bosnia and Iceland.
- Overall, the EU is a net importer of Silicon metal.
How much does it cost
- The production cost of Silicon is dependent on the quality provided. We need about 6 tons of raw material to produce 1 ton of silicon; 2.7 tons of Quartz, 1.5 tons of reductants (low ash coal or charcoal), 1.5 tons of wood. Another important cost component is energy with about 13,000 Kwh/t of silicon.
Specific Issues for Silicon
- Silicon metal is absolutely necessary to the production of aluminium and chemical products since it provides them with essential properties. A wide range of modern technologies depend on this material.
- Silicon metal cannot be substituted and there is no recycling of (pure) Silicon.
- The economic importance of Silicon has been demonstrated – in the aluminium and chemical sectors, but also as essential material in the electronics and solar industries, and a promising input in the battery application to increase energy storage capacity and hence battery duration. The absence of substitutes for the wide range of end-uses only increases the critical character of this material.
- In particular, China is expected to continue to increase its market share among global producers in the next 5 years, following the same trend observed in the past years. This trend may be explained by recurrent dumping practices favored by production overcapacity.
- Growth in the silicon metal market is expected to continue in the coming years, led by increased demand from regular aluminium and chemical applications, fast growing solar industry, and promising battery market demand.
- There is no level playing field between the EU and its main competing regions in terms of policy in the energy, climate and environment fields. European Silicon metal producers are faced with fierce and often unfair competition from third countries. The still existing Europe-based commodity production must be preserved if the EU wants to avoid exposing its main economic value chains and sectors to a total dependence vis-à-vis external raw materials supply.