Silicon is the second-most abundant element in the earth’s crust and serves as either the base material or a critical additive in thousands of products that we all use every day.
Given that silicon metal is the base material for so many products, silicon metal’s position in the value chain ensures its continued role in both the industrial and consumer sectors of the global economy.
The largest single use of silicon metal is as an alloy material in various grades of aluminum, primarily aluminum used for performance applications such as automotive components and aerospace products. Silicon demand in this sector has grown significantly as a result of the increasing use of aluminum-based parts as replacements for heavier steel or iron parts in automotive applications. The silicon in these aluminum alloys improves the castability while reducing the brittleness of the alloy, greatly enhancing the alloy’s use for an increasing range of high-performance parts.
Silicon is also used as the base material for silicone chemicals, products that are ubiquitous in their use. Silicone products include silicone rubber gaskets and seals, caulking compounds and sealants, lubricants, food additives, adhesives, coatings, polishes and cosmetics, among others. No single silicone use is predominant, and the use of silicone products is diversified across a broad range of industries and consumer products.
A high-profile use for silicon metal is in the production of polycrystalline silicon (polysilicon). Polysilicon is the base material for solar cells and semi-conductor grade silicon.