Centrotherm Group

Centrotherm: Achieving best-in-class polysilicon production in the Middle East

editor, 20 March 2013

Steffen Mueller, head of technical marketing at Germany-based Centrotherm SiTec, tells PV Insider what it is about the Middle East that makes it ideal for cost-effective polysilicon production.

While the oversupply of polysilicon to China between 2011 and 2012 squeezed out more than 90% of local producers, on the other side of the world, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are building their first polysilicon manufacturing facilities, as they prepare to fill an expected spike in the domestic demand for silicon with the planned establishment of a PV industry.

Why Qatar needs polysilicon

Qatar’s motive is to use the silicon for solar panels to power air-con systems at the 2022 FIFA World Cup stadia, and also to generate power through building-integrated solar systems. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is preparing for its large-scale solar power programme, which involves generating 16GW through PV by 2032.

Germany’s Centrotherm SiTec, a subsidiary of Centrotherm Photovoltaics, is involved in both markets and has established an office in Qatar. The company is one of two partners selected by Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec) in early 2010 to help them achieve best-in-class polysilicon production costs at the current plant that is underway.

“We are currently executing our comprehensive know how at the biggest polysilicon project in the MENA region for an 8,000 MTPY-polysilicon production plant in Qatar. Centrotherm SiTec accompanies customers from feasibility studies through engineering services and consulting, providing basic engineering packages, supplying key equipment, and supporting them with the start-up and ramp-up of the entire plant,” Mueller tells PV Insider.

QSTec’s polysilicon manufacturing facility – expected to be operational in the second half of 2013 – will use second- generation Siemens reactors and converters from Centrotherm SiTec, in a closed loop system that recycles and purifies any unused gasses and byproducts to be used again. Built within the massive Ras Laffan Industrial City, the plant’s site can be expanded to produce more than 45,000 MTPY.

IDEA opts for hydro chlorination

In Saudi Arabia, Centrotherm SiTec is working with IDEA Polysilicon Company (IPC) since January 2012, providing practical knowledge and engineering for the construction of the company’s polysilicon manufacturing facility in Yanbu Industrial City. Initially producing 10,000 tons per year of solar-grade polysilicon, ingot and wafer, the plant will eventually expand to produce 20,000 tons of polysilicon annually.

“We already delivered a project-specific technology package and adapted it to the specific site conditions according to IPC’s requirements. Together with an EPC company, the proposal has been further detailed,” says Mueller. The criteria for the selection of Centrotherm as partner for IPC were based on the supply of competitive polysilicon technology and equipment, as well as the subsequent extension along the solar value chain up to the module, such as the production of metallurgical silicon and manufacturing of ingots and wafers, which would in turn boost domestic production.

IPC expects to achieve lower production costs by using a hydro chlorination-based process and combined with advanced polysilicon deposition production process, which would reduce electricity consumption and achieve a higher quality than the conventional process.

“Unique chlorine recycling technology supports “green” polysilicon production and the emissions are well below the local permissible limits. In addition, having a high degree of process automation supports high safety standards, while securing reliable quality and reducing operational cost,” explains Mueller.

Competitive production base

According to Mueller, there are several advantages that make this region a competitive base for polysilicon production, ranging from the attractive electric power rates and infrastructure, to the presence of a strong oil and gas industry and competitive labour costs. Most importantly, the fast-growing local PV market will soon call for supply.

“Polysilicon production is very energy consumable. The Middle East with its low electricity and energy costs provides the best conditions for low-cost polysilicon manufacturing. Educated staff and a competitive labour market are also available,” he says.

The region’s well-developed chemical industry also facilitates the required infrastructure. “A polysilicon plant is more or less a chemical plant, and a well-developed chemical industry means that gases such as hydrogen, nitrogen, hydrogen chloride, which are necessary for polysilicon production, are available on site and can be purchased from their producers”, Mueller explains. This advantage lowers the investment cost and makes it easier to start up a polysilicon facility. In addition, the presence of a strong refining industry and manpower enable the operation of such plants.

To bring polysilicon production costs down from an early stage, Mueller suggests that project developers conduct feasibility studies according to local conditions, pursue a technology selection process and establish an effective project plan. These activities would determine the overall expected project cost as well as the total production cost.

Considering that Dubai is targeting at least 200MW through PV in its 1GW Solar Park by 2030, and given that Saudi Arabia has set minimum local content levels of 60% and 70% for the country’s first and second PV tenders (1.1GW and 1.3GW, respectively), the development of an integrated PV supply chain in the region will sooner or later be imperative.

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