Expansion of GCL-Poly’s granular polysilicon capacity delayed

Granular polysilicon from the fluidized bed reactor plant of Jiangsu Zhongneng, a subsidiary of GCL-Poly Energy Holdings
Despite a delay in its expansion, Jiangsu Zhongneng’s FBR plant is producing granular polysilicon at full speed – Image: GCL-Poly

Jiangsu Zhongneng, a subsidiary of GCL-Poly Energy Holdings, will complete the construction of 30,000 metric tons (MT) of fluidized bed reactor (FBR) capacity to produce granular polysilicon in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province half a year later than originally announced.

In September 2020, when GCL-Poly officially started the expansion of Jiangsu Zhongneng’s FBR capacity from 6,000 MT to 54,000 MT, the company said that the capacity would be increased to 30,000 MT by June 2021 and to 54,000 MT by the end of 2021.

In February 2021 Jiangsu Zhongneng achieved an FBR capacity of 10,000 MT. On October 25, however, GCL-Poly said in the belated announcement of its 2021 half-year results that the FBR capacity is expected to reach 30,000 MT “by the end of 2021.”

In early October Chinese media had still reported that the capacity would be expanded to 30,000 MT in the same month. GCL now estimates that the second step of the expansion to 54,000 MT will “become fully operational” in 2022, without providing a more detailed timeframe.

FBR capacity of 10,000 MT at full utilization

The delay may have to do with the fact that Jiangsu Zhongneng replaced the lead contractor for the project with several other suppliers who would only be responsible for some of the processes “in order to maintain confidentiality of the technology.” The unclear circumstances of this contractor change led to the resignation of GCL-Poly’s auditor Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in May 2021 and a significant delay in publishing the company’s 2020 annual results.

In any case, Jiangsu Zhongneng’s production data indicate that its combined capacity of 36,000 MT for polysilicon chunks (Siemens process) and 10,000 MT for granules (FBR technology) was running at an utilization rate of 101% in the first half of 2021. This suggests that its FBR facility is able to reach the nominal capacity in a stable manner although the company has not specified the granular output separately.

GCL-Poly is especially exuberant about the quality of the granular output: “The metal content, carbon content, donor impurities and acceptor impurities all meet the N-type material standards, while the requirements of electronic grade polysilicon have also been met, with quality-related data exceeding the expectations of downstream manufacturers.”

The claimed suitability for high-efficiency n-type solar cells may still provoke some questions, whereas GCL’s remark on electronic grade should not be overvalued. The Chinese standard for electronic grade cannot be compared with the high requirements of the western semiconductor industry.

Progress on building FBR plants in Sichuan and Inner Mongolia

Meanwhile, GCL’s two other FBR projects in Leshan, Sichuan province and Baotou, Inner Mongolia seem to make progress. Construction of the first 60,000 MT phase in Leshan started in April and is “in full swing,” according to GCL.

In Baotou, preparation and construction work for the first 60,000 MT phase “have been fully launched,” GCL says. In early October Jiangsu Zhongneng, Gaojia Solar (a wafer subsidiary of GCL-Poly) and equipment maker Wuxi Shangji Automation increased the capital of their granular polysilicon joint venture in Baotou. According to the announcement of Wuxi Shangji, the project is expected to be commissioned in the third quarter of 2022.

Update

In a conference call held with analysts on the third-quarter results of competitor Daqo New Energy on October 28, Chief Financial Officer Ming Yang said that “there are material differences in quality and purity” between granular polysilicon and Daqo’s mono-grade polysilicon chunks in particular. Yang referred to feedback the company has received from downstream manufacturers.

On November 11 GCL-Poly announced that its subsidiary Jiangsu Zhongneng put its new 20,000 MT FBR unit into operation on November 10. Construction started in February and was completed at the end of October. Thus, the company has reached a total FBR production capacity of 30,000 MT in Xuzhou now.

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