Silicon Metal Market – Snapshot

Silicon metal is a grey metallically lustrous semi-conductive metal that is used in the manufacturing of steel, aluminum alloys, solar panels, and microchips. Silicon metal is commonly produced by smelting quartz and coke in a submerged in an energy-intensive, electric arc furnace. Further processing of the material into different product grades allows its use in various industrial applications. Silicon metal is necessary in the production of aluminum and chemical products, as it provides them with essential properties. A wide range of current technologies depend on silicon material. Silicon metal is an essential material in electronics and solar industries. Use of silicon metal in battery applications to increase energy storage capacity and battery life is rising. Silicon metal acts as a raw material for a large number of industrial and consumer products such as sealants, adhesives, lubricants, coatings, and polishes & cosmetics.

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Increasing Application of Aluminum Alloys in Automotive to Drive the Market

Silicon-based aluminum alloys are being increasing employed in automotive applications due to the need to reduce weight to decrease fuel consumption. Silicon and aluminum are alloyed together to form silumin. Depending on silicon content, the aluminum-silicon alloys are classified into different grades. In terms of volume, silicon content in silicon metal alloys varies from 3% to 50%. Addition of silicon metal to aluminum creates favorable properties such as high thermal conductivity, good castability, high corrosion resistance, and machinability. Silicon-based aluminum alloys are increasingly employed to replace heavy cast iron and steel components in the automotive industry. Increase in silicon content in aluminum silicon alloys improves wear-resistance in mild wear conditions. Silicon-based aluminum alloys have sufficient strength for structural durability, stability, and dent and crash resistance. Formability for bending, stretching, and deep drawing operations is increases.

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Moreover, growth of the automotive sector is projected to drive the silicon metal market during the forecast period. The automotive industry is a major consumers of silicon-based aluminum alloys. This, in turn, boosts the demand for silicon metal and aluminum in the automotive sector. Thus, increasing demand for automobiles and growing automotive sector are likely to augment the silicon metal market in the near future.

High Production Cost of Silicon Metal to Restrain Market

The production cost of silicon metal depends on key variables such as cost of power, raw materials, labor, and transportation. The silicon metal producing industry requires long-term supply of stable power, as the production process consists ignition of an electric arc which is necessary for the reduction of quartz in silicon metal. The requirement of high temperature and high power makes the production process energy intensive, this significantly increases the overall production costs. Charcoal, quartzite, and wood chips are raw materials employed in the production of silicon metal and hence, silicon metal manufacturers prefer physiographic regions with significant deposits of quartz and charcoal. Thus, high production cost and market volatility are projected to hamper the silicon metal market. 

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High Demand for Solar Panels to Create Opportunities in Silicon Metal Market

Demand for renewable energy is increasing in the market due to the depletion of natural resources such as crude oil, coal, and natural gas, and adverse effects of fossil resources on the environment. Solar energy is considered to be renewable source of energy due to the abundant availability of solar power. This, in turn, has increased the demand for solar panels on a large scale. These panels are manufactured using high-purity polycrystalline silicon/polysilicon, a derivative of silicon metal. Polysilicon acts as a primary building block in the manufacture of silicon-based photovoltaic panels/modules. Governments of countries across the globe have started raising awareness about the benefits and some have started providing subsidies on the implementation of the solar panels. Recent innovations in the industry have led to the introduction of fluidized bed reactor (FBR) in the manufacturing process. The application of FBR reduces energy requirements for purification but yields significant amount of by-products such as silicon tetrachloride and hydrogen. These gases are highly combustible and require expensive transportation and disposal procedures. Silicor materials, which are used to produce solar silicon, do not generate toxic materials and harmful by-products that require further treatment. Additionally, the process yields sizeable and saleable aluminum-based products used in aerospace, automotive, and building materials. Hence, recent innovations in production processes are expected to reduce capital investment by decreasing power requirements and creating monetary benefits. 

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