Oman becomes a polysilicon player

United Solar Polysilicon is building a 100,000-tonne polysilicon plant at the Sohar Port and Freezone. Photo Credit: Oman News Agency

Oman is setting up an industry that takes silica from sand and rocks and processes it into a premium product – polysilicon.

The crystalline substance is a key raw material for making solar panels and computer chips for a fast-growing market.

The project, involving an investment of more than 520 million Omani riyals (US$1.3 billion), is coming up on a 160,000-square-metre site near the Sohar Port and Freezone, 230km northwest of Muscat.

World demand for polysilicon is growing. The spot price, US$6.75 per kg in June 2020, rose to about US$8 last year. Supply shortages caused wild fluctuations leading to a peak of almost US$40 in 2022.

World polysilicon production was more than a million metric tonnes last year. China is currently the leader, accounting for 70% to 80% of production. The runner-up is the US with a 10% to 15% share, followed by South Korea, Germany, and Japan.

Oman’s Finance Minister Sultan bin Salem al Habsi laid the foundation stone for the plant on 11 March. He expects production to begin next year. With an annual capacity of 100,000 tonnes, that will make the United Solar Polysilicon Plant the leading producer in the Middle East.

Polysilicon is a poly-crystalline form of silicon. This is an element commonly found in silica in sand, rock and other raw materials. The silicon is extracted by washing, grinding and treating the silica with chemicals. The extract is then refined in a furnace. That turns it into silicon metal.

Although it looks like a metal, it is a metalloid. The liquid metal is poured into moulds and allowed to cool. The ingots formed are then ground into granules and packed for export.

“The polysilicon factory project in Sohar is set to become one of the world’s largest and the first in the Middle East, marking a critical advancement in high-quality solar panels,” said Abbas Al Lawati, an analyst with Invest Oman. “This venture will notably impact various sectors in Oman, especially green hydrogen, and alternative energy production. Moreover, it lays the groundwork for a myriad of other industries within the renewable energy sector, especially in producing alloys and chips.”

The Finance Ministry’s Undersecretary for Investment Promotion Ibtisam Al Farooji said the project was aligned with Oman’s Vision 2040 to bolster local investment and attract foreign direct investment.

“We are steadfast in our national efforts to enhance investment opportunities in the industrial sector and other areas promoting economic diversification. Our aim is to attract investors to these opportunities, providing comprehensive support to transform these prospects into tangible projects,” she said.


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