Interest in solar power is increasing, spurred in part by international demand for alternative energy and a recent increase in the price of oil. As a result, there is more demand for the chemical vital to photovoltaic solar panels: polycrystalline silicon, or polysilicon.

Sun, Sand and Silicon
Photo: AP Wideworld

Polysilicon is not a new. It serves as the base for most integrated circuits. Now, many design firms, including CDI Engineering Solutions, see demand for polysilicon growing exponentially.

“China has announced that it is committed to solar power and is supplying low-interest loans to companies willing to build silicon plants producing at least 3,000 metric tons a year,” says Bob Giorgio, CDI's president. China's goal is to produce 10 GW of solar power by 2015. “We are working on polysilicon plants in China,” Giorgio says, adding that building polysilicon plants generally costs $500 million and up. German-based Wacker Chemie AG broke ground on a $1.5-billion polysilicon plant in Charleston, Tenn., on April 8. The plant is designed to produce 15,000 metric tons of polysilicon a year.

“I would estimate the market will grow by 20% to 30% a year for the next several years, and we plan to grow with it,” Giorgio says.