A new ranking of the top manufacturers of polysilicon by the German research agency Bernreuter Research shows that four of the five largest producers in the world are located in China. And while Germany-based Wacker Chemie, which also has a polysilicon plant in Tennessee, is second on the list for 2020, the company’s president has said there are no plans to increase production of solar-grade polysilicon. Bernreuter Research therefore predicts that the top 4 polysilicon manufacturers will all come from China by 2022.
Why This Matters: There is ongoing concern that forced labor is being used in China’s Xinjiang province, where the vast majority of polysilicon – the absolute fundamental building block of solar panels – is already produced. The area is also sensitive to the use of coal-fired power plants for electricity. The global solar industry will have a hard time avoiding this relationship.
The top 10 polysilicon manufacturers for 2020 include:
- Tongwei (China)
- Wacker (Germany / United States)
- Daqo New Energy (China)
- GCL-Poly (China)
- Xinte Energy (China)
- Xingjiang East Hope New Energy (China)
- OCI (South Korea / Malaysia)
- Silicon from Asia (China)
- Hemlock (United States)
- Inner Mongolia Dongli Photovoltaic Electronics (China)
OCI slipped off the list in seventh place after closing its solar polysilicon business in South Korea last year. Wacker, which was overall No. 1 before dropping to second place this year, is still the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic grade polysilicon for the semiconductor industry. However, compared to its fast-growing Chinese competitors, Wacker has no plans to increase its solar power capacity beyond continuously resolving bottlenecks. “We are certainly not interested in building incredible new capabilities,” CEO Rudolf Staudigl said on April 30 during a conference call to discuss his company’s first quarter results.
As a result, Wacker will be overtaken by three more Chinese manufacturers and fall back to No. 5 by 2022, Bernreuter Research predicts.
“The emergence of China-based players in our rankings is exemplary of the increasing dominance of the Chinese polysilicon industry,” said Johannes Bernreuter, head of Bernreuter Research and author of the Polysilicon Market Outlook 2024. Polysilicon production will enter the 1990s. % to approach. “
The three likely companies that will outpace Wacker for the top four places in 2022 – GCL-Poly, Daqo and Xinte Energy – run factories with very cheap electricity from coal-fired power plants in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. The area has come under scrutiny after reports surfaced of the widespread use of forced labor there.
“These reports should wake up Western governments. If their countries do not want to become almost entirely dependent on China’s solar products for the transition to renewable energy, they must implement an effective and long overdue industrial policy for a non-Chinese solar supply chain, especially for blocks and wafers. manufacturing ”, says Bernreuter. “Cheap and renewable hydropower in the northwestern United States, Canada, Norway and Malaysia offers them the opportunity to fuel an alternative supply chain without forced labor and a high carbon footprint.”
In December 2020, advocacy group SEIA asked solar companies to sign a pledge against the use of forced labor in the solar energy supply chain. The group plans to develop a supply chain traceability protocol for materials used in solar panels to help companies keep track of where their products come from.
“Unethical employment practices go against everything we stand for as an industry and are against our values,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO. “It is up to us to be vigilant and take steps to ensure that the solar industry is free from forced labor. Dozens of companies have already signed up to sign our pledge, and we’re calling on the entire industry to join us. “