We produce high-purity chemical and metallurgical grade silicon metal in our Ohio, West Virginia, Alabama and Niagara Falls, New York US plants. Our Globe Metallurgical subsidiary is the largest producer of silicon metal in North America and as a group we are among the largest producers in the world.
Our Solsil subsidiary manufactures very-high-purity solar-cell-grade silicon and supplies it to top-tier manufacturers of silicon ingots, wafers and photovoltaic ("PV") solar cells. Solsil produces this product using metallurgical production methods. This so-called "upgraded metallurgical-grade silicon" (UMG-Si) is an alternative to solar-cell-grade silicon produced by traditional methods.
Our silicon metal is used by the chemical industry in the production of silicone compounds and by aluminum manufacturers to improve the useful properties of aluminum, as well as in the manufacture of silicon wafers used in photovoltaic solar cells and electronic semiconductors. According to the metals industry research firm, CRU International, our US plants are among the most efficient producers of silicon metal in the world.
Silicone compounds are the main raw material for a large and growing number of industrial and consumer products, including silicone rubber parts, urethane foam, sealants, adhesives, lubricants, food additives, coatings, polishes and cosmetics. Silicones are substitutes in many applications for petroleum-based compounds and the demand for silicones benefits from higher oil prices.
Demand for aluminum has grown steadily in recent years, reflecting increased economic activity in both the developed and developing world, as well as new uses as a lighter, more economical replacement for other materials. Silicon metal consumption by aluminum manufacturers has grown accordingly.
The fastest growing market for silicon metal is for the very-high-purity product from which most photovoltaic ("PV") solar cells are manufactured. The Norwegian Institute of Technology's SINTEF research group projects continued rapid growth in this market, with solar cell usage exceeding current silicon usage for all other applications combined by 2020.