This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

February 08, 2006

Shell Sells Silicon Solar Cell Business, Focuses on Thin Film

Photo of a robotic arm lowering one solar cell onto a conveyor belt, while a robotic device adds electrical contacts to another solar cell further down the line.

Silicon solar cells move down the production line at Shell Solar's manufacturing facility in California.
Credit: Shell Solar Industries

Shell Solar, a division of Royal Dutch Shell, announced on February 2nd that it is selling its crystalline silicon solar business to SolarWorld AG, a German company. The business includes manufacturing facilities in California, Washington, and Germany with the capacity to produce 80 megawatts of solar cells per year, as well as sales companies in three countries and a research facility in Germany. As reported in this newsletter last year, the global market for solar-grade silicon is tightening and SolarWorld has been aggressively pursuing new supplies. This has positioned the company well for taking over Shell Solar's crystalline silicon solar business. See the February 2nd announcement on the SolarWorld Web site and the article from the May 25th, 2005, edition of this newsletter.

Shell Solar is not going away. Instead, the company is focusing on newer solar cell technologies involving thin films of semiconductors deposited onto glass. Shell's thin-film technology uses a compound of copper, indium, and selenide (CIS) and is able to convert 13.5 percent of the sunlight hitting it into electricity, a world record "conversion efficiency" for thin-film solar cells. To prove its commitment, Shell has signed a memorandum of understanding with Saint-Gobain Vitrage, the world's second largest maker of flat glass, to further develop Shell's CIS solar technology. Shell announced the signing of the agreement on the same day that it announced the sale of its crystalline silicon business. See the press releases from Shell Solar and Saint-Gobain.

The supply crunch for solar-grade silicon is continuing to cause headaches for the solar cell industry, which is holding a conference in Germany in April to address the problem. Some hope lays ahead, as MEMC Electronic Materials, Inc., which currently produces 4,000 metric tons of solar-grade silicon, plans to double its production in three years. In addition, Wacker Chemie AG, the world leader in solar silicon production, is building a plant that will boost its annual production from 5,500 metric tons per year to 9,000 metric tons per year by 2008. But China is adding to the demand side: GT Equipment Technologies, Inc., a top exporter of solar silicon manufacturing equipment, has received an order from LDK Solar Hi-Tech Co., Ltd. of Jiangxi, China, to expand the Chinese company's solar cell manufacturing capacity from 75 megawatts to more than 200 megawatts per year. According to GT Equipment, LDK Solar is planning to expand its capacity to 400 megawatts by 2008. See the Web site for the 3rd Solar Silicon Conference, the "Outlook" heading of the MEMC press release, and the press releases from Wacker and GT Equipment.