Elkem Solar, a Norwegian producer of solar-grade silicon, has combined basic and applied research to develop production methods that cut costs and consume less energy than conventional silicon production.
The Kristiansand-based company has now accomplished its three primary objectives. Silicon production costs have been significantly reduced compared to conventional production. Energy consumption has been cut dramatically. All the while, its efficient methods preserve the power output of silicon-based solar cells manufactured at its facilities, compared to silicon solar cells produced by traditional means.
Traditional production of silicon involves first gasifying the raw material, a costly and energy-intensive method. Elkem's method is based on traditional metallurgy; the raw material is melted and then undergoes several processing stages to prepare 10-kg silicon blocks for sale to solar cell producers. This method makes production more cost-effective and energy-efficient and is suitable for large-quantity production.
"The market potential is vast, but the financial crisis has led to major reductions in the market price for our product," says Dr Tronstad. "To be competitive it's essential to drive production costs down."
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