Elkem to pilot CO2-free silicon production with support from Enova

Elkem to pilot CO2-free silicon production with support from Enova

Silicons producer Elkem says it is piloting a CO2-free silicon production with support from Norway’s Enova. Elkem is researching a groundbreaking new concept for silicon production, which aims to eliminate nearly all direct CO2 emissions. The concept involves capturing and recycling the carbon in the process off gas and reusing it in the production process.

Enova has granted Elkem 31 million Norwegian kroner for a medium scale pilot, to be carried out in Kristiansand, Norway.

Silicon is a critical raw material for the green and digital transitions, as it is used in electric vehicles, solar cells, batteries, computers, wind turbines and much more. The production of silicon is however a source of greenhouse gas emissions, as the process requires a source of carbon to reduce the quartz into silicon. Elkem’s silicon production is based on more than 80% emission-free electricity and is said to be one of the world’s most sustainable silicon production processes. The emissions from the carbon needed to produce silicon from quartz is however hard to abate.

“Elkem has a climate strategy aimed at net zero emissions by 2050, and a switch to more biocarbon and exploring carbon capture are among the company’s measures. With this groundbreaking research into carbon looping, possibly reusing captured carbon in our own process, we are exploring a potential game changer in the silicon production industry,” said Elkem CEO Helge Aasen.

The new concept, named Sicalo (Silicon production with carbon looping), will eliminate the need for any carbon used as a reduction material, if realised. In today’s silicon furnace, the process gases end up as CO2 emissions. In Sicalo, the emitted carbon will be captured and reused in the silicon production process as a reductant.

Elkem is about to complete the first phase of the research and development work of Sicalo, where the various subprocesses are tested on laboratory and bench scales together with SINTEF Industry and NORCE. The project has previously received 16 MNOK in funding from the Research Council of Norway for this research phase in 2022-2024.

Elkem also completed the world’s first carbon capture pilot in a silicon smelter in 2023, with capture rates of up to 95%.