After peaking in 2021, polysilicon imports to China fell again in 2022, but the country’s share of global production was still close to 90 percent, according to a new report from Bernreuter Research.
The annual import of polysilicon to China has almost halved from the peak in 2017, which was 158,918 tons. Now it is close to the level of 2012, when it reached 82,760 tons.
Imports from Japan decreased the most. In 2021, Sharp unloaded large quantities of polysilicon inventory following the company’s long-term purchase agreement Hemlock semiconductor ended in 2020. This pushed imports from Japan to a record high of 15,431 tonnes in 2021. However, in 2022 imports fell by 60 percent to 6,129 tonnes.
A similar development took place in Taiwan, where former solar wafer producers continue to sell polysilicon stocks they own to China under long-term contracts. Imports from Taiwan fell 50 percent from 6,899 tons in 2021 to 3,480 tons in 2022.
The Malaysian polysilicon subsidiary of the South Korean chemical group OCI also exported significantly less to China. Its shipments fell 23% from 29,727 tonnes to 22,944 tonnes due to longer-than-expected maintenance at the OCI plant.
Imports by Germany’s Wacker, China’s largest foreign polysilicon supplier, fell 6.3% from 51,316 tons to 48,070 tons. Meanwhile, US-based Hemlock Semiconductor cut its volume from 4,811 tonnes to 2,785 tonnes after both polysilicon makers struck sales deals with Chinese module maker JinkoSolar, which opened a new wafer factory with a 7GW wafer factory in Vietnam in early 2022.
Trina Solar is the next major Chinese module maker to move production in response to ongoing anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations in the United States. Trina is expected to open a 6.5 GW wafer production facility in Vietnam Mid 2023.
“With Uyghur forced labor prevention law which bans products from Xinjiang and an anti-circumvention ruling on solar modules made with Chinese wafers in Southeast Asia, the US will increase demand for polysilicon solar panels and wafers that do not originate in China,” said Bernreuter Research. “At the same time, polysilicon imports into China will shrink further due to massive growth in domestic capacity . Thus, the future of non-Chinese polysilicon is outside of China.”
Preliminary production estimates show China’s share of global solar-grade polysilicon output at 88% in 2022, up from 82% in 2021 and 55% in 2017. Industry analysts expect existing polysilicon expansion projects to materialize due to the large profits seen in 2022. 2023, when production will grow rapidly towards a possible surplus.