The process of creating from raw materials the silicon ingots that serve as the basis for crystalline silicon solar technology is heavy, energy-intensive and slow-moving. This week a shuttered polysilicon factory in Norway took another step towards re-opening, but actual ramping of production is still months off.
In September 2015, the new parent company of REC Group, Bluestar Elkem, announced that it would look into re-opening a portion of a shuttered REC facility in Porsgrunn, Norway. The company said that it was interested in ingot production, and has conducted feasibility studies since that time.
Last Friday, Elkem made another announcement that it would re-open silicon ingot production at the facility, employing around 70 workers. The company expects production to begin production in the second half of 2015. But while offering this timeline, Elkem is also appealing for public R&D funding associated with the re-opening of the plant.
This project is associated with substantial risks and the costs of upgrading the factory equipment is expected to be several hundred million Norwegian kroner, notes Elkem Solar CEO Inge Grubben-Strømnes. We need politicians who see and value Norwegian industry and can support us in developing new, state of the art production technology and creating high-skilled jobs.
The Porsgrunn plant will create ingots using upgraded metallurgical-grade (UMG) silicon from another Elkem facility in Kristiansand, Norway. These ingots will in turn be sent to REC Groups integrated wafer, cell and module factory in Singapore.
This means that Elkem Solar will preside over processes throughout the entire chain from polysilicon to modules; however polysilicon expert Johannes Bernreuter, head of Bernreuter Research, says that he expects REC to mix the UMG polysilicon with higher-purity silicon from the Siemens process.
UMG currently only represents around 2% of the polysilicon consumed globally.