More chemicals investments in solar

The green blog’s good friend Neil Burns recently posted on his own blog about the impacts of clean technologies in the energy and chemicals sectors, which reminded me of my fast-growing list of recent chemical company activities on clean tech especially from Dow Chemical and DuPont who seemed to be always talking about this billion dollars global market potential.

I just posted today about Dow’s recent investments in clean technologies when this news just came out about the company’s start-up of its ENLIGHT polyolefin encapsulated films manufacturing facility in Ohio. The encapsulants are use in photovoltaic (PV) solar panel modules. The company said it plans to phase in production capacity around the world as needed to meet growing demand for PV encapsulants. 

Also in the solar sector, DuPont noted films, resins, encapsulation sheets, flexible substrates and conductive pastes as some of the materials chemical companies (such as DuPont) supply to photovoltaic manufacturers. DuPont said it expects this year to exceed $1 billion in revenue from sales into the PV market and to exceed $2bn in sales by 2014.

More on DuPont’s solar investment plans from this previous post.

Meanwhile, Dow Chemical’s silicone joint venture business Dow Corning opened in November China’s largest integrated silicone manufacturing facility with its partner Wacker Chemie. The facility in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province will have combined capacity for siloxane and pyrogenic silica production at 210,000 tonnes/year.

In another news, Wacker announced last week that it is building a new polysilicon production facility in Tennessee, US, with a capacity of 15,000 tonnes/year. The company said it anticipates continued double-digit  annual growth in polysilicon demand by the solar industry. Wacker claimed to be the world’s second largest producer of hyperpure polycrystalline silicon with a production output of 30,000 tonnes in 2010.

The Wacker Tennessee plant is expected to be complete at the end of 2013.

Another solar materials supplier, Solutia, announced on December 8 its plans to expand current operations of its Vistasolar ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) encapsulant in Suzhou, China, by late 2011. No capacity numbers were disclosed. Solutia said the PV market has seen tremendous growth in 2010 and that majority of the PV module production is in Asia.

For product offerings, BASF was seen at the recent K2010 plastic show offering its Ultramid® grades polyamides for use in connectors and junction boxes of photovoltaic installations and PolyOne also showcased its solar product portfolio at the show such as color and additive concentrates, flame retardant engineered materials for PV wire and cable, back sheets, connectors and housings.

Meanwhile, Arkema now made available in North America its premium grade of Kynar® PVDF film specifically developed for photovoltaic backsheets, and Rhodia launched in late November its new halogen-free flame retarded Technyl polyamides dedicated to PV component applications.

By the way, I received this recent Nexant prospectus about opportunities for manufacture and use of solar PVs. The consulting firm noted that global annual investments in SPV are now in the billions of dollars and that growth rates of capacity installed in various regions are as high as 40%/year. Two main types of SPV technologies are said to be crystalline silicon (c-Si) wafer (which are far more mature) and thin film technologies (which have a significantly lower cost structure and achieved higher growth rates in recent years).

“Silicon accounts for approximately half of raw material costs for c-Si wafers and therefore is a key determinant of economics for SPV technologies. Driven mainly by the semiconductor industry, silicon costs are highly volatile and have oscillated between factors of up to 10 from highest to lowest within the last few years. Therefore, addressing and managing silicon cost is crucial to the advancement of the SPV industry.” – Nexant

Lux Research also recently put out a study entitled “Module Cost Structure Breakdown: Can Thin Film Survive the c-Si Onslaught?”, which noted the increasing pressure on manufacturers of thin film technologies including TF silicon, cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium deselenide (CIGS) becayse of the falling cost of polysilicon raw material and advances in c-Si technologies.

“Crystalline silicon is dominant by volume and remains the cost/price benchmark for solar modules. Cadmium telluride is limited in efficiencies, but is the absolute leader in cost. We project these two technologies will continue to be highly profitable,” said Ted Sullivan, a senior analyst for Lux Research, and the report’s lead author. “The profitability of thin-film silicon is much dicier, but copper indium gallium diselenide is positioned to outplace crystalline silicon in profitability by 2013 as leading developers improve process stability.”

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