Polysilicon shipments into China fall to lowest level since 2011


Polysilicon imports into China have fallen to their lowest level since 2011, according to analysis from Bernreuter Research.

The research group used Chinese customs statistics to calculate that imports of the feedstock for solar cells and semiconductors fell by 28.5% from 88,093 metric tons (MT) in 2022 to 62,965 MT in 2023. This volume is slightly less than the 64,614 MT reached in 2011.

According to the head of Bernreuter Research, Johannes Bernreuter, the decline comes as leading non-Chinese polysilicon manufacturers Wacker, Hemlock Semiconductor, and OCI Malaysia increasingly shift their shipments from China to Vietnam, which is where three of the four largest Chinese PV module suppliers have set up wafer plants.

The three companies increased their polysilicon exports to Vietnam from 18,672 MT in 2022 to 33,265 MT in 2023, up 78.2% year on year. Bernreuter Research says this increase “more than compensated” for the 13,918 MT they lost in business volume in China in 2023. 

The shift appears influenced by US import legislation. From June 6, the US Department of Commerce will impose duties on manufacturers in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam who use Chinese wafers to produce solar cells and modules, circumventing anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Previously, the US Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which went into effect in mid-2022, banned products made in Xinjiang, China. This prompted Chinese PV module suppliers to create separate supply chains based on polysilicon from non-Chinese manufacturers for exports to the United States.

Bernreuter Research said that having a wafer production facility outside of China makes it easier for manufacturers to document to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency that no silicon metal or polysilicon from Xinjiang has entered their supply chains for modules destined for the US market. However, customs statistics show that polysilicon exports from China to Vietnam rose from 639 MT in 2022 to 4,970 MT in 2023 – an increase of more than 700%. Bernreuter Research said this “raises doubts about the claims of a separate supply chain and should sound alarm bells at the CBP.”

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US-based Hemlock Semiconductor, Germany's Wacker, and OCI Malaysia together were able to increase their polysilicon exports to Vietnam from 18,672 MT in 2022 by 14,593 MT, up 78.2%, to 33,265 MT in 2023. This growth more than compensated for the 13,918 MT they lost in business volume in China in 2023, said Bernreuter Research.

In the fourth quarter of 2023, the combined share of Wacker and OCI of total Chinese polysilicon imports rose to 97.8%. While total imports lay between roughly 15,000 MT and 20,000 MT per quarter in the first three quarters, the amount fell abruptly to less than 10,000 MT in the fourth quarter.  

Bernreuter Research said that “if the fourth quarter is any indicator for 2024, then polysilicon imports into China will plunge by another 40% to no more than 38,000 MT this year.”

In November, Bernreuter Research said it that it expected polysilicon prices to soon dip below the historical low of $6.75/kg, which was reached in June 2020. It told pv magazine at the time that it expected an all-time low to be reached in the first half of 2024. 

Analysis from OPIS showed that China’s polysilicon prices fell to CNY 60.25 ($8.40)/kg) on Jan. 16, down 51.8% year on year – before rising slightly to CNY 60.67/kg on Feb. 9.

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