The global PV industry’s largest ever single wafer plant launched by ZhongHuan Semiconductor

By Carrie Xiao

A 50GW (G12) solar grade mono silicon smart plant, thought to be the largest ever single wafer project, was officially launched in Yinchuan City on March 17, 2021. The plant is owned by Ningxia Zhonghuan Solar Material, a subsidiary of Zhonghuan Semiconductor.

The plant and supporting project is the first in which Zhonghuan has invested in Ningxia province, at a total of some 12 billion RMB.

According to earlier company statements, the project would be built in ‘agent construction mode’, to be leased and repurchased by Zhonghuan, with the government providing  support in project landing, tariffs and talent acquisition policy. Zhonghuan’s total mono capacity will reach over 135GW upon project completion.

Haoping Shen, Zhonghuan’s GM, commented: “Zhonghuan has long been committed to wafer technology innovation and the 210mm wafer is a tribute to decades of semiconductor development. Stakeholders in the semiconductor industry, whether they are material suppliers, equipment manufacturers or sample manufacturers, have all been following the 6-inch, 8-inch and 12-inch evolution. The 210mm is a leapfrogging innovation within the industry, based on which Zhonghuan is confident and determined to launch this 50GW solar grade mono silicon smart plant in Yinchuan.”

Shen underlined that the PV industry tends toward long development cycles, requiring long-term commitment from both companies and the entire industry. The most important concern for the PV industry is the reduction in use of precious metals as these are becoming more scarce. At the same time, the industry needs to also consider resource matching and fluctuations in supply and demand to tap into as yet invisible demands. Flexible manufacturing should be adopted to reduce waste, transaction and quality costs. Ultimately, people should be put first.

It was noted that, while continuing to support the G12 PV industry chain and provide high-quality capacity, the project can also better meet future market needs for higher conversion and production efficiency with smart customized ‘Industry 4.0’ production lines and flexible manufacturing, enhancing the company’s position as a global industry leader in the renewable material sector.

From the company perspective however, G12 means more than wafer sizes, it being more a testimony of its strength in technology innovation and quality management. Industry 4.0, which has helped deliver higher production efficiency and quality assurance standards, has emerged as the keyword for Zhonghuan’s G12 plant in achieving its target. Wang Lin, the deputy GM of Zhonghuan Renewable’s silicon business unit, told PV-Tech that, as the industry’s first 4.0 benchmark plant, the company’s Inner Mongolia Phase V plant had already achieved remote control of the CZ system as early as last year. One employee can operate remotely as many as 96 mono furnaces, which is 3-4 times more than other industry players in terms of man-machine ratio. The rollout of the Industry 4.0 solution and the centralized remote CZ system has enabled the annual output value per capita of the Inner Mongolia plant to top 3 million RMB in 2020, and it is expected that the annual output value per capita would reach nearly 5 million RMB this year; the man-machine ratio would also be doubled to 192 units per capita.

Chen Wei, the Deputy General Manager of Zhonghuan Renewable’s wafer BU, added: “We are reducing the thickness of N-type cells to achieve a reduction in LCOE and to cope with the periodic price fluctuation of poly raw materials. Transition to the future is directed at thickness reduction, consistent high quality and changes in manufacturing methods.”

According to Chen Wei, the most critical challenges are to improve mechanical properties and stabilize wafer performance. By introducing simulation and field testing, Zhonghuan has managed to address these challenges through diamond wire-cut selection, solid content reduction in the coolant and adoption of advanced mechanical designs.

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