Competitiveness and sustainability driving R&D
Sustainability and requirements for safe production processes involve solving technological challenges that require major research efforts. Elkem is heavily involved in new growth markets, such as solar cell silicon. New market characteristics change more rapidly than traditional markets and in order to utilise new opportunities Elkem needs to be ready with the technology when the demand arises.
Elkem uses its large network of world-leading reseach institutions to predict technological changes. Mutual collaboration with these institutions requires a very high level of expertise within Elkem.
New growth areas attract new players. This means that Elkem, as an established industry player, continuously has to improve efficiency and cost. This will often involve demanding improvement work and major technological challenges.The majority of Elkem's production takes place in high-cost countries, with high costs associated with both staffing and investments. Efficient technology is necessary for Elkem to remain competitive.
Industrial developments show that the requirements for expertise continue to grow. Elkem believes that the industry has a responsibility to contribute to the education of top qualified researchers who stay ahead of technological developments. Access to recently qualified researchers with key expertise is necessary for the industry to maintain continuity in technological developments.
100 years of technological breakthroughs
In 1918 Elkem patented a brilliant method that freed smelting plants from having to cool down furnaces and stop production when the electrodes were exhausted and had to be replaced. This method of continuous processing stems from the use of the Söderberg electrode, and is named after the electro engineer Carl Wilhelm Söderberg (1876-1955) who had the original idea. The invention led to Elkem becoming a worldwide technology company. Even today, around 75% of all smelting plants and furnaces worldwide use technology and equipment purchased from Elkem.
From waste to resource
The thick white smoke from the silicon smelting plant's tall factory chimney that some people remember from the 1970s turned out to be waste of the worst kind. The smoke contained a profitable product with fantastically useful properties. Elkem Microsilica® was an emissions problem that has been turned into a profitable product with good environmental properties. Elkem developed the scrubbing process and identified uses for the silicon dust. In the 1970s Elkem installed the filter technology everywhere quartz was converted into ferrosilicon and silicon. The authorities subsequently made scrubbing a statutory requirement.
Even smaller CO2 footprint for solar cell electricity
Elkem Solar, which was established in 2009, produces super-pure silicon, ESS ®, for the solar cell industry using just a quarter of the energy consumed by its competitors. Ongoing development will reduce the energy consumed even further. This makes solar energy cheaper to produce and makes solar power even more climate friendly. Independent tests also show that ESS ® produces more electricity than competing materials under conditions characterised by high temperatures and direct sunlight. Elkem began researching what is now known as Elkem Solar in 1975 and continues to conduct intense research in order to improve products and processes.
Continued long term R&D effort
In Elkem we continue our efforts to advance the production of metals and materials with a long term committment to ground breaking research in our field. Our R&D staff is involved in several projects that will improve the efficiency and sustainability of our production processes significantly.