As the rapidly expanding solar cell market continues to boom, so too does the demand for silane and the need for much increased production capacity.

The sharp rise in production of thin film silicon solar cells has driven demand for silane (SiH4), a major material used during the production process.

According to a Gas Review estimate, by the close of 2008 the global demand for silane for use with solar cells will have reached 400 tonnes, with the distinct possibility that during 2009 this could soar to around 1000 tonnes.

Reactive response
Denal Silane, producer for the Air Liquide Group, has begun the process of expanding production capacity, while The Linde Group is thought to have initiated construction of a silane plant in conjunction with a German chemical producer.

Also the Gas Review notes, Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corportation (TNSC) and both Air Products and Praxair have entered into long term contracts with the world’s largest silane producer, REC Silicon.

In response to the ever-growing demand, it seems the major gas companies are now out to procure silane in varying measures.

For Air Liquide’s part, Denal Silane revealed it would be expanding production this year from an annual 300 tonnes to 500 tonnes and plans to raise this further by 2010 as it produces 1000 tonnes and invests over Y20bn. Air Liquide extended its long term silane supply contract with REC in July, with volume also thought to have been raised, while the company also proudly reflects on a 40% share of the global market.

Linde meanwhile, announced this summer that it would be commencing silane production in collaboration with German chemical producer Schmidt Pilot Production.

Construction of a new plant in Schwarze Pumpe near Dresden is underway, due on stream in early 2009 with an annual capacity of 450 tonnes. When operational, it’s thought that Linde intends to put 300 tonnes of this on the market annually.

Noel Leeson, President of Linde Electronics, indicated to the Gas Review that this wasn’t anything new for the company and it was well placed to deliver silane production at competitive pricing. Furthermore, a long term contract agreed with Sodiff Advanced Materials earlier this year should expand Linde’s supply provision during 2009.

Prosperous PV market
It’s little wonder both Air Liquide and Linde intend to establish a position of leadership through silane production themselves. Estimates suggest that this year alone, the global business for industrial gas and affiliated equipment for solar cells use should reach Y50bn.

With such growth in the industry expected throughout 2009 and beyond, it’s anticipated that this business value will far exceed the Y50bn level and break the Y100bn mark.