Saudis to Make Desert Sands into Solar Polysilicon

Saudi Arabia has lots of open land with sand rich in silicon needed to make polysilicon for the solar industry.

This year, the Kingdom has announced its second polysilicon manufacturing partnership, this time with Germany’s Centrotherm Photovoltaics. A year ago, Saudi Arabia had announced a $1 billion solar joint venture with South Korea that was to have brought the first ever solar factory to Saudi Arabia to make polysilicon, the essential ingredient of traditional solar cells. That Saudi-based joint venture company, Polysilicon Technology Company, was to be in production by 2014. However, a year later, no website, and no further news announcements…

By contrast, the new partnership agreement with Centrotherm - to build a polysilicon plant in Saudi Arabia, has already yielded its own website in the new Saudi-based company name: IDEA Polysilicon Company (IPC).

By selecting Germany’s Centrotherm Photovoltaics – the world’s No #2 maker of solar equipment – the founders of IDEA would seem to have chosen wisely.

The new company will build a $1.06 billion industrial complex in Yanbu.

Funding comes from investors in the Gulf; IDEA International Investment and Development Company, who had put out a request for bids for building the polysilicon factory in 2010.

The project will be the largest manufacturing facility in the Middle East for the production of highly-pure polysilicon (how its made) with a total capacity of up to 10,000 tonnes per year, of which 2500 tonnes will be converted to solar wafers.

With this move, Saudi Arabia is slowly beginning to make some moves towards diversifying out of oil, which is its only real exportable commodity – and towards solar power and sand-based polysilicon, the commodities that it is truly rich in.

And since the Middle East and North Africa are expected to be among the major PV growth regions during next years, its a smart move.