Silicon is exceptionally abundant and enables the development of a wide range of products.
Silicon metal is one of today’s key instruments of innovation, particularly when it comes to embracing the low-carbon economy. This ongoing transition will empower silicon metal’s key addressable markets, namely silicones, photovoltaics, and aluminum.
Silicone is a synthetic polymer that’s most often found in a liquid or flexible rubber-like plastic state. Silicon, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen are combined to create silicone; sometimes, this combination will include other elements as well.
The capacity of silicone to absorb stress makes it an irreplaceable material in modern construction. Silicone is also used to bind concrete, granite, steel, glass, and plastics, and to produce specialty coatings, adhesives, and sealants.
Urbanization, primarily driven by population growth and global migration, will ensure that the demand for silicone-based products in construction remains strong.
Wind energy, which is primed to play an increasingly important role in global energy systems, also has a symbiotic relationship with silicon.
Silicone adhesives are used to more easily bind the enormous rotor blades of wind turbines. Additionally, silicone lubricants are used to reduce friction between turbine parts, increasing turbine efficiency. These adhesives and lubricants lessen the financial burden of assembling wind turbines and decrease the necessary frequency of mechanical maintenance appointments.
Photovoltaics (solar panels) are another key market for silicon. The metal is an important material in solar cells, as its semi-conductive property enables the photovoltaic process of converting light into electricity to occur.
Global market analysis and forecast conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2019 projected that “Renewable power capacity is set to expand by 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar PV. This increase of 1,200 GW is equivalent to the total installed power capacity of the United States today.
Solar PV alone accounts for almost 60% of the expected growth, with onshore wind representing one-quarter.” The photovoltaic market will drastically expand in the decades to come, promising another faucet of growth for the silicon metal industry.
Technological innovation in silicone-anode batteries is increasing the potential of commercially available, silicon-based battery storage. This new method of battery storage would exude efficiency and would revolutionize the battery industry and battery-based products, such as electric vehicles.
Silicon metal also plays a role in strengthening aluminum alloys, which use metallurgical grade silicon. Aluminum-silicon alloys are lightweight (relative to other metals), have a high resistance to deterioration, and feature a low thermal expansion temperature.
These qualities make aluminum-silicon alloys particularly useful to the transportation industry, which increasingly values fuel efficiency.
Replacing steel with aluminum-silicon alloys is one way in which manufacturers achieve lighter and more fuel-efficient cars.
Silicon metal has an extremely stable product base, with a diverse line of captive industries, including construction, renewable energy, and vehicle manufacturing. Global efforts to decarbonize economies will ensure that silicon metal’s key addressable markets: silicones, photovoltaics, and aluminum-silicon products, all remain in high demand for decades.