Investing in Silicon

Silicon is a metalloid with many uses. It is a light chemical element with metallic and nonmetallic characteristics. Silicon is rarely found free in nature. Silicon combines with oxygen and other elements to form silicates, which comprise more than 25% of the Earth’s crust. Silica (SiO2) as quartz or quartzite is used to produce silicon ferroalloys for the iron and steel industries and silicon metal for the aluminum and chemical industries. Silicon metal that is refined into semiconductor-grade metal for use in making computer chips is crucial to modern technology, but the quantity is less than 5% of total silicon metal demand. Silicon metal may either be used directly in an upgraded metallurgical form or refined into wafers to power solar batteries. In order of amounts consumed, world consumption of silicon metal used to produce monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon, amorphous monocrystalline silicon, and ribbon silicon solar cells in 2009 was estimated to be 74,000 t, which was about 5.7% of the total amount of silicon metal consumed worldwide [1.3 million metric tons, (Mt)].

Domestic Production and Use: Estimated value of silicon alloys produced in the United States in 2010 was $770 million. Three companies produced silicon materials in seven plants. Of those companies, two produced ferrosilicon in four plants. Metallurgical-grade silicon metal was produced by two companies in four plants. One of the three companies produced both products at two plants. All of the ferrosilicon and silicon metal plants were east of the Mississippi River. Most ferrosilicon was consumed in the ferrous foundry and steel industries, predominantly in the eastern United States. The main consumers of silicon metal were producers of aluminum and aluminum alloys and the chemical industry. The semiconductor and solar industries, which manufacture chips for computers and photovoltaic cells from high-purity silicon, respectively, accounted for only a small percentage of silicon demand.

Import Sources (2006–09): Ferrosilicon: China, 46%; Russia, 24%; Venezuela, 14%; Canada, 9%; and other, 7%. Silicon metal: Brazil, 44%; South Africa, 28%; Canada, 17%; Australia, 10%; and other, 1%. Total: China, 26%; Brazil, 21%; Norway, 13%; Russia, 13%; and other, 27%.

Events, Trends, and Issues: The global economic recovery, as measured by the expansion of global gross domestic product (estimated 2.7% increase from that of 2009 by the World Bank), coincided with growth in the silicon market during 2010. Domestic ferrosilicon production in 2010, expressed in terms of contained silicon, was expected to be 22% greater than that of 2009. Greater domestic production, along with a doubling of ferrosilicon imports from those in 2009, increased U.S. ferrosilicon apparent consumption by 38%. This was in line with the projected 38% increase in domestic steel production in 2010 compared with that in 2009. Annual average U.S. spot market prices also significantly rose in 2010 from those of 2009, as silicon material suppliers increased output to meet consumers’ needs.

Demand for silicon metal comes primarily from the aluminum and chemical industries. Domestic secondary aluminum production—the primary materials source for aluminum-silicon alloys—was projected to decrease by 6% in 2010 compared with that in 2009. However, domestic chemical production was projected to increase by 3% in 2010.

World production of silicon materials increased in 2010 compared with that in 2009, mainly as a result of restarting ferrosilicon smelters that had been shut down at the end of 2008 and in 2009. One ferrosilicon plant in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China added about 320,000 tons of production capacity in 2009 and 2010, making it the largest plant of its kind at 650,000 tons of capacity. Other ferrosilicon plant expansions took place in Brazil, China, and Russia.

World Production and Reserves: Ferrosilicon accounts for about four-fifths of world silicon production (gross-weight basis). The leading countries, in descending order of production, for ferrosilicon production were China, Russia, India, the United States, and Norway, and for silicon metal production, the leading countries were China, Norway, Brazil, and Russia. China was by far the leading producer of both ferrosilicon (3,900,000 tons) and silicon metal (780,000 tons) in 2010.

World Resources: World and domestic resources for making silicon metal and alloys are abundant and, in most producing countries, adequate to supply world requirements for many decades. The source of the silicon is silica in various natural forms, such as quartzite.

Substitutes: Aluminum, silicon carbide, and silicomanganese can be substituted for ferrosilicon in some applications. Gallium arsenide and germanium are the principal substitutes for silicon in semiconductor and infrared applications.

Silicon Producers
Arise Technologies Corporation (TSE: APV) - 7N+ high-purity silicon
China Silicon Corp.
Daqo New Energy Corp (NYSE: DQ)
GCL-Poly Energy Holdings (HKG: 3800) - Chinese polysilicon producer
Globe Specialty Metals (NASDAQ: GSM) - silicon metal and silicon-based alloys
Hemlock Semiconductor Corp.
Jiangxi Black Cat Carbon Black Co. (SHE: 002068) - Silicon materials
MEMC Electronic Materials (NYSE: WFR) - - design, manufacture and sale of silicon wafers. They also sell intermediate products including polysilicon, silane gas, partial ingots, and scrap wafers.
OCI Co. - Korean silicon producer
REC Silicon
Renewable Energy Corp - Norwegian silicon producer
Siltronic - - This division of Wacker Chemie AG (ETR: WCH) produces hyperpure silicon wafers
Solarvalue AG (ETR: SV7) - Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon for solar cells
Solarworld AG (ETR: SWV)
Timminco (TSE: TIM) - Solar grade silicon
Tokuyama Corporation (TYO: 4043) - Multicrystalline silicon

(wiki) - Silicon on Wikipedia

Silicon News
2011-07-26 - (es) - DuPont acquires silicon ink maker Innovalight
2011-07-10 - (bl) - Asia doubles solar silicon factories, pursuing gain in slump
2011-07-08 - (cbh) - Suntech terminates silicon wafer contract with MEMC
2011-07-05 - (for) - Silicon prices plunge as solar market softens
2011-07-05 - (bl) - China Silicon to double polysilicon production this year, ICIS reports
2011-07-01 - (bl) - JA Solar to buy Silver Age to boost output of silicon wafers
2011-07-01 - (prn) - Suntech and MEMC terminate long term silicon wafer supply agreement
2011-06-27 - (ibt) - China Sunergy Co. Ltd. (CSUN) subsidiaries ink deal to ramp annual silicon cell production
2011-06-23 - (pla) - US silicon price reaches fresh seven-month low on demand woes
2011-06-23 - (ntw) - Easy-to-produce black silicon could unlock promising applications
2011-06-23 - (mc) - Yash Birla Group to set up silicon wafers unit
2011-06-17 - (nyt) - Maker of silicon wafers wins millions in U.S. loan support
2011-06-16 - (bl) - Calisolar awarded $275 million loan guarantee for silicon plant
2011-06-16 - (prn) - Sun shines on the silicon market
2011-06-15 - (mb) - China's silicon export prices firm on prospect of power shortages
2011-06-14 - (pvt) - Timminco shifting solar grade silicon again
2011-06-14 - (reu) - Arise Tech posts first profit, seeks partner for silicon plant
2011-06-13 - (bw) - Silicon manufacturers pin on rapidly developing new-age markets
2011-06-13 - (cnw) - ARISE begins commissioning silicon facility
2011-06-13 - (reu) - Timminco Q1 loss slims on higher silicon metal prices
2011-06-12 - (nw) - Scientists demonstrate first telecommunications wavelength quantum dot laser grown on a silicon substrate
2011-06-12 - (sa) - Renesola could face higher than expected silicon wafer price pressure in Q2
2011-06-10 - (st) - Silica sand is the new gold
2011-05-25 - (mb) - Si falls further as buyers hold off
2010-11-18 - (mmd) - Flat polished silicon and germanium now being offered by Lattice Materials
2010-10-28 - (bl) - Solar-grade silicon maker Elkem targeted for purchase by steelmaker Posco
2010-01-29 - (smm) - Weekly review and forecast on domestic silicon market
2010-01-27 - (smm) - Prices of high grade silicon metal continue to decline

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