What Is Silicon And Where Do I Use It?
- Silicon, 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, silicones and silica, 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 for the development of high value silicon bound to the photovoltaic market.
Where is Silicon Produced?
- China has a dominant position in Silicon metal production (56% of world market shares in 2011 and constantly growing). This production is not only well above the domestic consumption but also well above the total world demand for Silicon metal.
- Brazil is another producer outside of Europe, as well as the US.
- Within Europe, the producing countries are Norway, France, Spain and Germany.
- Overall, the EU is a net importer of Silicon metal.
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 global demand for Silicon metal is growing.
- The European Commission identified Silicon as a Critical Raw Material in 2014.
- 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. The absence of substitutes for the wide range of end-uses only increases the critical character of this material.
- In terms of supply risk, China’s production of Silicon leads to an evident overcapacity. The world consumption of Silicon today is ca. 2 Mio T and the installed capacities in China are ca. 5 Mio T. The supply risk will increase in the future: the market balance expected for 2020 clearly shows large excess capacity. The surplus is expected to mainly originate in China.
- Today there is no level playing field between the EU and its main competing regions in terms of policy in the energy, climate and environment field. 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 sectors to a total dependence vis-à-vis external raw materials supply.