In the 1980s, in Donghai County, the country with the most abundant quartz resources, the quartz produced was mainly used to pave rural roads. Later, it was discovered that quartz could be used as a refractory material and used in industry. Quartz has risen from 5 yuan per ton at the beginning to 50 yuan per ton later, and now it is 500 yuan per ton, which has increased by 100 times during this period. Behind this surge, the photovoltaic industry has boosted the market demand for quartz sand in recent years.
Quartz ore is widely distributed in the world. The industrial quartz ore includes 7 kinds of natural crystal, quartz sandstone, vein quartz, powder quartz, natural quartz sand and granite. Quartz sand is a quartz particle processed from quartz sandstone, quartzite, etc. The main mineral component is SiO2, and it also contains other small amounts of Al2O3, Fe2O3, MgO, and CaO. Quartz sand can be divided into low-end and high-end. The medium and low-end quartz sand has been domestically applied in the fields of lighting and electronic packaging, and the high-end quartz sand is mainly used in photovoltaic, semiconductor, communication and other fields.
The application of quartz in the photovoltaic industry is mainly divided into two segments: photovoltaic glass and crucible. Among them, photovoltaic glass has low requirements on the purity of quartz sand, SiO2 ≥98.55%, and high light transmittance of glass is mainly required. But the quartz sand used in the crucible is much stricter. The use of quartz sand in single crystal crucibles is to convert polycrystalline silicon into monocrystalline silicon rods by Czochralski method and then cut silicon wafers. It is a consumable item. The quartz sand used in crucibles requires higher purity. At present, there are only three companies in the world that can mass-produce high-purity quartz sand, namely Unimin in the United States, TQC in Norway and domestic quartz shares.
The photovoltaic industry chain mainly includes polysilicon, silicon wafers, cells, modules and power stations. In the past few years, silicon materials have always been a bottleneck in the industry chain. Silicon materials have eaten up 70% of the profits of the industry chain and accounted for more than 80% of the cost of final components. However, this year, some second-tier silicon wafer companies have begun to reflect the lack of quartz crucibles and may face the problem of production suspension. However, it is not the quartz crucible that really restricts the industrial chain, but the high-purity quartz sand. In the world, only the United States and India have mines that can supply quartz sand stably.
Some analysts even believe that in the second half of 2022, the bottleneck link of the photovoltaic industry chain will be converted from silicon material to quartz sand.
In recent years, photovoltaic silicon wafer companies have expanded rapidly. At the beginning of 2022, the production capacity of the silicon wafer link is about 367GW, and it is expected to reach 536GW by the end of the year, an increase of 46%; it is expected to reach 731GW by the end of 2023, a year-on-year increase of 36%. The expansion of photovoltaic silicon wafer production increases the demand for quartz crucibles, which in turn stimulates the demand for high-purity quartz sand. Driven by the high prosperity of the photovoltaic and semiconductor industries, the upstream quartz sand is “hard to find”, and its price is rising one after another.
Some professionals said that the price of a quartz crucible is about 12,000 yuan, which is three times the price in December last year, and the increase is relatively large. However, due to the crystal pulling process of photovoltaic silicon wafer preparation, polysilicon raw materials account for about 90% of the cost, and quartz crucibles account for only about 2%. Therefore, for every increase of 10,000 yuan/ton of high-purity quartz sand, the cost of quartz crucibles used in silicon wafers will be affected. The increase is still less than 1 cent. Therefore, the market is not sensitive to the price increase of quartz, and everyone is most concerned about whether it can be purchased.
From the perspective of market demand, it is assumed that the global installed photovoltaic capacity in 2022-2023 is 240GW and 300GW, and 1GW of silicon wafers are assumed to correspond to about 88/85 single crystal furnaces. According to the calculation of the crucible replacement cycle of 12 days, considering the trend of large-scale crucibles, The average weight of a single crucible is about 85kg and 90kg. Conservative estimates correspond to 6.3/88,000 tons of quartz sand demand in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
In terms of market supply, in 2022, the production capacity of domestic quartz sand leading quartz shares will reach 25,000 tons, the quartz sand production capacity of other domestic companies will reach 7,000 tons, and the quartz sand production capacity of foreign companies including Norway’s TQC will reach 23,000 tons. The annual global supply of quartz sand will reach 55,000 tons. However, compared with the global demand for photovoltaic grade quartz sand of 63,000 tons this year, the gap between supply and demand is 8,100 tons.
At present, many companies in the two cities have already started a battle for sand. Not long ago, Folai, a leading photovoltaic glass enterprise, won the mining right of “Quartzite Mine for Glass in the New No. 13 Section of Lingshan-Mudishan Mining Area in Fengyang County” with the highest price of RMB 3.38 billion; then, another photovoltaic glass enterprise, CSG Group Bid for the mining right of “Quartzite Mine for Glass in the New No. 16 Section of Lingshan-Mudishan Mining Area in Fengyang County” for 930 million yuan. In addition, the listed company Zhongqi New Materials has three quartz sand mining licenses, among which the vein quartz mine in Luocheng is the ore body with the highest grade and the best purity in the current quartz mine.