Polysilicon-Production Waste Unacceptable To Solar Industry

The solar industry is responding to a recent article in The Washington Post that examines the environmental hazards posed by silicon tetrachloride – a toxic byproduct of polysilicon production.

The article, composed by foreign service correspondent Ariana Eunjung Cha for the Sunday, March 9, edition of the Post, focuses on China – where industry related to solar energy products has been growing at a swift pace. Substantial pollution, the author suggests, is complementing this growth.

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), says SEIA member companies are ‘outraged and disappointed by the reports.’

‘This story was the first we had heard of this practice, which violates both our association's professional code of conduct and the very spirit of what we're trying to do as an industry,’ Resch says. ‘We are out to solve environmental problems – not create them.’

The Post article highlights Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., which maintains a polysilicon production plant in Henan Province near the Yellow River. The factory, claimed to be a key supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, plans to produce more than 3,000 tons of polysilicon in 2008.

At issue is that Luoyang Zhonggui and other China-based solar plants ‘have not installed technology to prevent pollutants from getting into the environment or have not brought those systems fully online,’ the article states.

Resch, however, finds some of the Post's reporting dubious. ‘Although not reported in the story, Suntech and the rest of the PV manufacturers require in writing that their suppliers recycle their waste or dispose of it safely,’ he says.

‘Suntech officials attest that they have only intermittently received small amounts of polysilicon from this factory in the past,’ Resch adds. ‘Further, this polysilicon producer was not a major supplier to Suntech and, prior to this article's appearance, Suntech had terminated business with the company for failing to meet their standards.’

The SEIA president is clear about his organization's and the industry's stance on irresponsible manufacturing: ‘The reports of this factory's behavior fall far outside acceptable industry manufacturing standards and will not be tolerated.’

LDK Solar, a China-based manufacturer of multicrystalline solar wafers, says it ‘maintains strong, environmentally responsible standards.’

‘In its state-of the-art polysilicon plants, currently under construction, the company is implementing the latest proven Western technology for recycling,’ LDK Solar comments. ‘The plants will utilize a vent recovery system that will recycle and convert silicon tetrachloride back to trichlorosilane for consumption in the production process. Once completed, LDK's plants will have a fully closed-loop system, where the majority of the potential waste will be recycled.’

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