In order to address the pressing problem of cost-effective supplies of solar-grade silicon, AstroPower has signed a technical cooperation agreement with the Norwegian company Elkem. Under the deal, the two companies will combine proprietary process technologies to develop a low-cost means of producing silicon for the rapidly expanding PV industry.
Up until now, PV manufacturing has relied on supplies of silicon from the wider semiconductor industry, a limited and often high-cost source. Consequently, many players in the business have been looking to develop dedicated solar-grade silicon supplies. Elkem and AstroPower have been working together on this problem since February 1998, and will now move forward to refine their process and then establish a jointly-owned manufacturing venture, based in Norway and managed by Elkem.
The current market for solar-grade silicon is about $75m/yr, which will grow at about 25-30%/yr, in line with world demand for PV. The move cements AstroPower's position in the upstream portion of the PV market, allowing it to drive down the cost of the cells it sells to module manufacturers, as well as its own end products. Elkem is the world's largest producer of silicon metal, serving the aluminium, electronic and solar industries from plants in Norway and the US.