SAN JOSE, Calif. Prices for polycrystalline materials have jumped by approximately 25 percent in recent days amid ongoing and severe shortages in the marketplace. The troubling supply and pricing trends for these materials could hamper the overall growth rates in the semiconductor and solar cell industries, according to analysts.
Leading polycrystalline or polysilicon vendors ASiMI, Hemlock, MEMC, Mitsubishi Materials and Wacker cannot keep up with huge OEM demand and are reportedly sold out of these materials for the next two to three years, according to industry sources. Polysilicon, a material that consists of multiple small crystals, is used to make silicon wafers, solar cells and other products.
Demand is enormous, especially for solar cells. Over the last several years, photovoltaics have shown 40 percent annual market growth in terms of solar modules, according to a recent presentation by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.
"Increasingly, the growth in demand for polysilicon from the photovoltaic market or solar cell market is straining the ability of polysilicon producers to meet demand," warned Paul Leming, an analyst with Princeton Tech Research (Princeton Junction, N.J.), in a report.
"It is becoming increasingly likely that raw materials for the production of silicon wafers polycrystalline or polysilicon is going to be in very short supply in 2006 and 2007," Leming said. "As semiconductor industry volumes return to the peak levels seen in the summer of 2004 by late this year or early next year it appears likely that polysilicon will become a limiting factor in the supply of wafers to the semiconductor industry."
Vendors are increasing their respective polysilicon production, but "incremental capacity" will not be added at least until late 2007 or early 2008, he added.
What's more, pricing for polysilicon materials has climbed from $32 per kilogram in December of 2004, to $60 per kilogram in April of 2005 and most recently to $80 per kilogram, according to Ted Parmigiani, an analyst with Lehman Brothers (New York). "Polysilicon pricing is up 150 percent during past six months, driven by limited near-term capacity growth and burgeoning solar-grade silicon demand," he said in a new report.
Prices quoted by Lehman Brothers are "spot prices" not "contract prices" for polysilicon, observed Gary Homan, vice president of marketing and sales for Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. (Hemlock, Mich.), the world's largest supplier of the materials. Hemlock is a joint venture between Dow Corning of the United States and Shin-Etsu Handotai Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Materials Corp. of Japan.
Contract prices for polysilicon are approximately $55 per kilogram right now, up from the upper $30 range a year ago, Homan said. "The impact has been felt over the last six months," he said.