Polysilicon imports into China climbed to 114,000 tons in 2021

Polysilicon imports into China from 2017 through 2021
Inventories from Japan pushed 2021 polysilicon imports into China – Source: Chinese customs statistics; Graphic: Bernreuter Research

After a steep drop in 2020, polysilicon imports into China recovered somewhat in 2021. According to Chinese customs statistics, imports of the feedstock for solar cells increased by 13.3% from 100,776 metric tons (MT) in 2020 to 114,203 MT in 2021.

While the sinking volume from South Korea was easily compensated by rising imports from a few other countries, Japan more than tripled its polysilicon inflow into China from 4,625 MT in 2020 to 15,431 MT in 2021.

Presumably, Japanese solar module producer Sharp off-loaded large volumes of polysilicon inventory after the company’s high-priced, long-term purchase contract with Hemlock Semiconductor expired in 2020. The especially high Japanese imports of 6,413 MT in the second quarter, however, returned to a more ordinary number of 1,748 MT in the fourth quarter.

South Korea’s polysilicon exports to China fell from 15,331 MT in 2020 to 4,096 MT in 2021 after both OCI and Hanwha Solutions announced in February 2020 that they would terminate their solar-grade polysilicon operations in the country. Off-spec material from OCI’s electronic-grade plant in Gunsan is still contributing to Chinese imports. Similar to Japan, however, the amount dropped sharply from 3,097 MT in the first half to 999 MT in the second half.

Wacker’s import volume is stagnating

Although polysilicon imports from the USA into China are impeded by prohibitive duty rates, the volume rocketed by 81% from 2,659 MT in 2020 to 4,811 MT in 2021. The strong increase was probably promoted by the polysilicon shortage arising early last year.

Despite the shortage, imports from Germany’s Wacker grew only slightly by 2.5% from 50,061 MT in 2020 to 51,316 MT in 2021 – still less than the 52,667 MT the company achieved in 2019. Consequently, Wacker’s share in total polysilicon imports into China declined from 50% in 2020 to 45% in 2021. It looks like the company prefers growth in the electronic-grade polysilicon sector for semiconductors over a rising solar-grade share in China.

In contrast, OCI’s Malaysian polysilicon plant increased its import volume by 29% from 23,035 MT in 2020 to 29,727 MT in 2021, thus raising its share from 23% to 26%. Taiwan also improved its share from 3.6% to 6%.

In view of the significantly lower volumes from Japan and South Korea in the second half of 2021, total polysilicon imports into China will likely decline to a range of 100,000 MT to 110,000 MT in 2022.

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