Sibelco To Invest $200 Mn On Doubling Its Spruce Pine HPQ Capacity by 2025

April 21, 2023

Belgium-based industrial minerals company Sibelco aims to double the high-purity quartz (HPQ) installed capacity at its Spruce Pine facility in North Carolina from its 2022 level by 2025 to meet anticipated growth in the global semiconductor and solar photovoltaic markets, according to a company press release on April 21.

The company will invest an estimated $200 million in "asset integrity, energy efficiency and further capacity expansion in Spruce Pine between 2023 and 2025 to double its installed capacity from the 2022 base".

Details of its production capacities are confidential, a Sibelco spokesperson said in response to OPIS' queries. But Sameer Gaikwad, director of Research and Business Intelligence at Exactitude Consultancy, estimates Sibelco's current HPQ production capacity to be around 35,000-40,000 metric tons (mt) a year.

Sibelco had already incrementally expanded its installed capacity by over 30% from 2019 to 2022 through "process efficiencies", the press release said. 

With this latest expansion of installed capacity, underpinned by a mine life potential of more than 100 years, Sibelco aims to provide its customers with short- and long-term security of supply. "The expansion will ensure that Spruce Pine remains the world's leading source of HPQ," said Hilmar Rode, Sibelco's CEO, in the press release.

Various estimates place Spruce Pine as accounting for 60-90% of the world's HPQ supply, making it the single largest source of the raw material. Norway-based The Quartz Corp is another prominent miner at Spruce Pine. 

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Sibleco's announcement comes amid a tight HPQ supply that has bogged down Chinese solar wafer manufacturers in recent months. The raw material is used to make expendable crucibles critical to the wafer manufacturing process. 

The Free On Board (FOB) China mono M10 wafer price was assessed at $0.831/pc on April 18, the joint highest since the start of the year on Jan. 3, according to OPIS price data. This was despite the price of mono-grade polysilicon in China reaching an 11-week low of CNY 189.93 ($27.58)/kg on April 18.

Tightness in HPQ has helped to buffer the wafer sector against weakness in the upstream polysilicon market, industry players said.

Given the HPQ shortage that impacts wafer quality and "booming demand" for higher efficiency N-type solar panels, "you have the next solar drama in the making," said Sakura Yamasaki, CEO of trading firm Singapore Solar Exchange.

Sibelco's expansion "is very good news for the entire wafer market," said a North Asian crucible maker. China PV manufacturers have tried solving the HPQ shortage "by importing quartz sand from Russia and India, but their quality is not in line with their quality performance and specifications," he added. 

--Reporting by Nicholas Lua,
--Editing by Hanwei Wu,

© 2023 Oil Price Information Service, LLC. All rights reserved.


Biofuel, Refining Groups Lambast EV Optimism of EPA Tailpipe Proposal

April 12, 2023

A proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency that would enforce more stringent tailpipe emissions standards on automakers was roundly criticized by representatives for the biofuel and refining industries upon its release Wednesday for its purported favoritism toward the electric vehicle industry.

Imposition of the proposal, the groups argued, would likely create an uneven landscape in the vehicle market heavily skewed toward the production of EVs from 2027 through 2032.  

The agency said the more stringent standards, which were issued this week under an August 2021 executive order from President Joe Biden, were set due to the "increased feasibility of zero and near-zero tailpipe emissions technologies."

The new standards would increase in stringency with each model year, the agency said in the proposal, to a projected 56% and 44% reduction in fleet average greenhouse gas emissions over the six-year period for light-duty and medium-duty vehicles, respectively. 

Such standards, the agency said, could result in EVs accounting for 67% of new light-duty vehicle sales and 46% of new medium-duty vehicle sales by 2032.

The proposal would also set stronger limits on criteria pollutants and particulate matter, as well as battery durability requirements for battery and plug-in hybrid EVs. 

These developments -- which could in the future make it harder for automakers to continue producing vehicles with internal combustion engines compliant with the tightening federal standards -- were not received well by Wednesday afternoon from those in the biofuels industry, as Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said the proposal "puts a thumb on the scale for one technology at the expense of others, rather than giving automakers the flexibility to pursue innovative strategies for decarbonizing light-duty vehicles."

EPA acknowledged skepticism over its optimistic view of EV expansion in the proposal, noting that, "it is important to recognize that, despite this anticipated growth in zero-emission vehicles, many internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will continue to be sold during the time frame of the rule and will remain on the road for many years afterward."

And advanced gasoline technologies integral to previous rulemakings, the agency said, "will continue to play an important role going forward as they remain key to reducing the criteria and GHG emissions of ICE, mild hybrid (MHEV), and strong HEV powertrains as well as PHEVs."

But Geoff Cooper, CEO and president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a release that the proposal nonetheless "arbitrarily" selects technology winners and losers using "no clear scientific basis" in doing so. 

"Today's EPA proposal would effectively force automakers to produce more battery electric vehicles and strongly discourage them from pursuing other vehicle technologies that could achieve the same -- or better -- environmental performance at a lower cost to the U.S. economy and American families," Cooper said. 

EPA touched on these concerns over tech-neutrality in its proposal, arguing that "the statute does not specify a particular technology or technologies that must be used to set such standards," adding that Congress has authorized the agency to "adapt its standards to emerging technologies."

And as it has done with prior rulemaking, EPA said it would continue assessing the feasibility of the new standards given current and anticipated progress on behalf of automakers. 

But the newest standards differ from those past rulemakings, the agency said, as significant progress in the development of product lines for electric vehicles and falling battery costs have made zero- and near-zero emission technologies "more feasible and cost effective."

And passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with their provisions fostering expansion of the EV market and associated infrastructure, represent "pivotal milestones" for EV potential, the agency said.

"A proliferation of announcements by automakers in the past two years signals a rapidly growing shift in product development focus among automakers away from internal-combustion technologies and toward electrification," the agency added.

Chet Thompson, President and CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said it was "unconscionable" that the administration would take such a position on EV market potential given China's "dominant" share of global battery production. 

"We should all be aiming for individuals and families to have more fuel and vehicle choices, not less, that can fit within their budgets and meet their work and household needs," Thompson said. 

And yet, developments on the domestic end, coupled with "an ongoing global shift toward electrification," the agency said, "suggest that demand for [EVs] in the U.S. is rapidly increasing."

Mike Sommers, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a release that the proposal represents "a major step toward a ban on the vehicles Americans rely on." 

"As proposed, this rule will hurt consumers with higher costs and greater reliance on unstable foreign supply chains," Sommers said. 

EPA's decision to focus on tailpipe emissions in the proposal rather than lifecycle carbon emissions, Thompson added, "will stymie investment and artificially cap the potential of carbon abatement for liquid fuels and vehicles on the road today."

The refining representatives found common ground on the topic from the likes of Cooper and Skor, as the latter said EPA's standards, "show a lack of imagination and ignore the reality that even by the most aggressive estimates, internal combustion engines will still occupy more than half of the light-duty vehicle marketplace by 2040."

High-octane, low-carbon renewable fuels like ethanol, Cooper said, "can immediately deliver dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency and carbon performance when paired with the right engine technologies."

"But today's EPA proposal unfortunately ignores the ethanol opportunity and instead declares EVs as the winner, despite mounting evidence that a headlong rush into electrification could lead to a host of unintended environmental and economic consequences," Cooper said.

And Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said the proposal would "stifle innovation and slow near-term climate reductions" and exacerbate "environmental damage and human rights impacts from unsustainable mining of critical minerals across the globe."

Instead of putting all of its eggs in the EV basket, Jennings said, the agency should instead focus on the creation of a technology-neutral clean fuel standard "that ensures fair and accurate accounting and crediting of GHG reductions from climate-smart agriculture practices and unleashes homegrown fuel sources."

The agency said it intends on posting the standards in the Federal Register, where it will then seek public comment on the proposal. 

Reporting by Patrick Newkumet,
Editing by Jordan Godwin,

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