The lion’s share has shifted from semiconductor to solar

The smartphone, notebook or desktop computer you are using right now needs it; the car you drive needs it; and over 90% of all solar panels producing electricity from the sun need it, too: Polysilicon, the purified variant of the grey silicon metal made of quartz, is indispensable for semiconductor devices and solar cells alike. The lion’s share of the demand for it has shifted from the semiconductor to the solar industry.

From the mid-1950s until the mid-1990s, hyper-pure polysilicon was exclusively produced for the semiconductor industry. In 1995 its share in polysilicon demand was 90%; the remaining 10% went as scrap silicon from the semiconductor sector to the small photovoltaic (PV) branch to produce solar cells.

With the rapid growth of the solar industry, however, that has changed. Fast forward twenty years: In 2014 the ratio between the two main uses of polysilicon had completely reversed – the PV industry made up 90% of polysilicon demand, the semiconductor sector only 10%.

Shares of the semiconductor and solar industries in polysilicon demand in 1995 and 2014

Polysilicon demand total and demand shares of the semiconductor and solar industries in 1995 and 2014
Between 1995 and 2014, the annual polysilicon demand increased by a factor of 18.4; the ratio between the shares of semiconductors and photovoltaics reversed completely – Sources: PV News, Sage Concepts, Bernreuter Research; Chart: Bernreuter Research

In total, polysilicon demand increased from just 15,100 metric tons (MT) in 1995 to approx. 278,000 MT in 2014.

While demand from the semiconductor sector roughly doubled from 13,600 MT to approx. 28,000 MT during those twenty years, demand from the PV industry skyrocketed from just 1,500 MT in 1995 to approx. 250,000 MT in 2014 – an increase by a factor of 167! That means: Demand from the solar industry doubled on average every 2.7 years. In 2018 it reached around 420,000 MT (polysilicon market analysis).

Published on June 29, 2020  © Bernreuter Research

About the author

Johannes Bernreuter, Head of Bernreuter Research
Johannes Bernreuter

Johannes Bernreuter is head of the polysilicon market research specialist Bernreuter Research. Before founding the company in 2008, Bernreuter became one of the most reputable photovoltaic journalists in Germany because of his diligent research, clear style and unbiased approach. He has earned several awards, among others the prestigious RWTH Prize for Scientific Journalism from the RWTH Aachen University, one of the eleven elite universities in Germany.

Originally an associate editor at the monthly photovoltaic magazine Photon, Bernreuter authored his first analysis of the upcoming polysilicon bottleneck and alternative production processes as early as 2001 (Publication List). After preparing two global polysilicon market surveys for Sun & Wind Energy magazine in 2005 and 2006, he founded Bernreuter Research to publish in-depth polysilicon industry reports.

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