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TitleFuture of photovoltaic materials with emphasis on resource availability, economic geology, criticality, and market size/growth
AuthorSimandl, G J; Paradis, SORCID logo; Simandl, L
SourceCIM Journal 2023 p. 1-25, Open Access logo Open Access
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20230053
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Mediapaper; digital; on-line
File formatpdf; html
SubjectsScience and Technology; mineralogy; metallic minerals; mineral deposits; gallium; germanium; indium; selenium; silicon; solar energy; tellurium
Illustrationsdiagrams; graphs; charts; tables; photographs
ProgramTargeted Geoscience Initiative (TGI-6) Ore systems
Released2023 04 18
AbstractThe reduction of greenhouse gas emissions depends largely on the availability of clean energy. To harness solar energy, photovoltaic (PV) materials (solar-grade silicon, germanium, gallium, indium, tellurium, selenium, and arsenic) must be available at a reasonable cost. Markets for these critical and specialty materials do not exceed 200,000 tonnes per year; however, they are subject to fast growth rates. Except for solar-grade silicon, PV materials are by-products of base and precious metal extraction. This is motivated in part by environmental and workplace regulations and the need to purify the main commodity to users' specifications. Given favorable market conditions, any PV material can be derived from more than one deposit type. For example, germanium can be recovered as a by-product from bauxite, Mississippi Valley-type, clastic-dominated sediment-hosted zinc-lead, Kipushi-type, Apex-type, and other deposit types. The raw materials required to produce metallurgical-grade silicon (MG-Si), mainly quartzites, are available on all continents. The process is energy intensive, so the availability of abundant, inexpensive, and "clean" power is one of the key parameters in selecting future silicon metal plant sites. MG-Si is the starting material for the production of solar-grade silicon. Although no shortages of PV materials due to a lack of raw materials are expected in the short term, those linked to bottlenecks, geopolitical economic considerations, armed conflicts, natural hazards outside of human control, or commercialization of new technology are possible. The advent of the "circular economy" cannot eliminate the need to increase mine, smelter, and refinery production of PV materials.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
Photovoltaic materials (e.g., solar-grade silicon, germanium, gallium, indium, tellurium, and arsenic) are required to harness solar energy through photovoltaic cells. The recovery of most of these materials is as by-products of base and precious metal extraction. No shortages of photovoltaic materials due to a lack of raw materials are expected in the short term, however, shortage due to anthropogenic factors are possible. Recycling and recovery of critical materials from waste cannot eliminate the need to increase mine and smelter production of raw materials.

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