Photovoltaics and Ethylene Oxide Production to consume Six Hundred Million Ounces of Silver Through 2020

Photovoltaics and Ethylene Oxide Production

Two of the everyday industrial uses for silver are in photovoltaic cells (the main constituents of solar panels) and as a catalyst for the production of ethylene oxide (an important precursor in the production of plastics and chemicals).  These two uses of silver will together account for 120 Moz per year of consumption on average from 2016 to 2020, an increase of 32% compared to 2015 levels, according to a new report issued today by the Silver Institute.

There are many reasons to be positive about demand for silver in photovoltaic (PV) cells.  The number of solar panel installations is forecasted to rise steadily in the coming years as a result of a combination of carbon emissions legislation, government policies and a decrease in the cost per gigawatt of electricity generated using PV. This will bring about substantially increased silver consumption despite slow and steady declines in the amount of silver used per individual solar panel. The report projects that 2018 will be a bumper year for silver demand in PV due to the construction of a record number of solar arrays; silver use in PV in 2018 is expected to be some 75% greater than in 2015.

Ethylene Oxide (EO) is a vital raw material for a vast number of plastic and chemical products, the most important of which is ethylene glycol, used in the production of antifreeze coolants and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a resin of the polyester family used in fibers for clothing as well as plastic bottles and food containers. EO requirements are also expected to increase as the market for antifreeze continues to grow: car usage is expected to increase through 2020, with China leading the way, and Europe and North America projected to maintain their current high vehicle usage rates.

The combined pull of PET packaging and automotive use will boost underlying growth in EO consumption, with a projected 30 Moz of silver demand targeted to EO through 2020.

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