What is Silicon Metal and the Silicon Metal Uses?
Metallurgical grade silicon is known as metallic silicon (Silicon Metal) because of its shiny appearance.
Silicon metal is mainly used in the manufacture of silanes and silicones, as a curing agent or alloying constituent to produce Aluminum alloys, and in the manufacture of microprocessors and solar cells.
Metallic silicon is also used as a secondary smelting additive in the production of photonic devices and industrial refractory material.
Silicon metal is usually produced by smelting ore in thermal electric arc furnaces, an energy-intensive process. Processing the material into different product grades makes it suitable for many industries.
Where is Silicon Metal Produced?
China dominates silicon metal production (averaging 61% of total refining output during 2010-2014, data from BGS, 2016). This production is not only much higher than domestic consumption but also much higher than the world’s total demand for metallic silicon. China’s silicon production capacity reaches 4.6 million tons (source CNIA).
Brazil, Australia, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Thailand are other producers outside of Europe and the US.
In Europe, the producing countries are France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Bosnia and Iceland.
Overall, the EU is a net importer of silicon metal.
How Much does Silicon Metal cost?
The production cost of metallic silicon depends on the quality provided. To produce 1 ton of silicon metal requires about 6 tons of raw materials; 2.7 tons of quartz, 1.5 tons of reducing agent (charcoal), and 1.5 tons of wood. Another important cost component is electricity energy at around 13,000 kWh/t.
Metallic Silicon Production
Silicon metal is absolutely necessary for the production of aluminum and chemical products because it provides them with essential properties. A wide range of modern technologies depends on this material.
Metallic silicon is irreplaceable and there is no recycling of (pure) silicon.
Silicon has proven economic importance – in the aluminum and chemical industries, as well as in the electronics and solar industries, and as a promising material in battery applications, increasing energy storage capacity and thus battery life. Alternatives without widespread end-use only add to the material’s key properties.
In particular, following the same trends observed over the past few years, China is expected to continue to increase its market share among global producers over the next 5 years. This trend may be due to repeated dumping practices favored by excess capacity.
The silicon metal market is expected to continue to grow over the next few years on the back of increasing demand from conventional aluminum and chemical applications, rapid growth in the solar industry, and prospects for battery market demand.
There is no level playing field between the EU and its main competitors when it comes to policy in the fields of energy, climate and the environment. European silicon metal producers face stiff and often unfair competition from third countries. The EU-based commodity production that still exists must be preserved if the EU wants to avoid its major economic value chains and sectors being completely dependent on external raw material supplies.