Dow Corning Corp. on September 5 announced that it has achieved a milestone in solar energy technology: a solar-grade (SoG) silicon derived from metallurgical silicon that exhibits good solar cell performance characteristics when blended with traditional polysilicon feedstock. This new silicon feedstock material, Dow Corning(R) PV 1101 SoG Silicon, is the first commercially available feedstock produced from such technology using large scale manufacturing processes.
For several years, the primary obstacle to the growth of solar energy has been the constrained availability of silicon, the key raw material used in the production of solar cells. Until now, the solar industry has relied on the supply of polycrystalline silicon, a high-grade purity product, originally developed for the semiconductor industry. This has meant that the solar industry has in turn been subject to resource restraint. The launch of PV 1101, produced from a very different route, will alleviate that restraint and offer a new source of supply as well as new technical and business options for the solar industry.
"PV 1101 is certainly one of the most innovative technologies to come along in the solar energy industry since the manufacture of the first silicon solar cells," said Gaetan Borgers, director of Dow Corning Solar Solutions. "For years now, the solar industry has hoped to be supplied by new sources of silicon designed and dedicated to them. PV 1101 is a major step in that direction. It is a step that will provide a means of growth for the solar industry."
"Dow Corning's PV 1101 SoG Silicon is offering new choices and new perspectives for the photovoltaic (PV) industry," said Rudy Miller, market manager of Dow Corning Solar Solutions. "We can now offer the burgeoning solar market two attractive supply options. Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., the world's largest supplier of polycrystalline silicon, of which Dow Corning is the majority shareholder, is continuing to aggressively expand production capacities for polysilicon. And now, our new breakthrough material is presenting customers with a different technology choice to meet their material needs.
"This is the latest demonstration of how Dow Corning is solving both technological and supply issues in solar energy. In the short term, PV 1101 SoG Silicon meets the specifications of a growing customer base and helps to ease the current imbalance between supply and demand. In the mid and long term, it offers new options to the PV industry."
The PV 1101 blend material has already been tested in independent institutes and at several Dow Corning Solar Solutions' customer production sites worldwide. The testing showed that the blended feedstock material exhibits performance characteristics similar to polysilicon in terms of solar cell manufacturing and efficiency.
"Dow Corning has worked closely with several customers to test and qualify our material," Miller said. "The results are very positive and we have recorded a high interest for our product. Orders have already been placed."
Dow Corning began bulk production of PV 1101 earlier this summer, and bulk customer shipments began in August. Progressive ramping up of the PV 1101 SoG Silicon production facility to full speed is currently in progress.
"While PV 1101 is certainly a breakthrough for the entire solar energy industry, Dow Corning doesn't plan to stop there," said Borgers. "We are continuing to develop next-generation materials and therefore more options for our customers."
PV 1101 SoG Silicon is a new milestone for the Solar Solutions Group at Dow Corning. It is the first product manufactured at Dow Corning Solar Solutions Group's new production facility in Santos Dumont, Brazil.
While Dow Corning has been providing materials to the photovoltaic industry throughout the company's history, it created the Solar Solutions Group in 2001 to focus on development and commercialization of material solutions that will improve cost effectiveness, material availability, durability and performance of photovoltaic devices.
Dow Corning Solar Solutions Group provides materials and services for the entire photovoltaic supply chain, from sand to sun: from the basic building blocks of silicon feedstock for ingots and wafers production to solar module frame assembly and sealing materials. It is leveraging its unique position and global leadership in the silicon value chain to deliver solutions that will make a difference in the photovoltaic industry and help photovoltaic producers fulfill the mid- and long-term promises of solar energy.