With so many silicone applications in rubber parts, urethane foams, sealants, adhesives, lubricants, food additives, coatings and cosmetics, the importance of adding refined silicon metal feedstock capacity in North America is self-evident.
It also is far from an easy fix.
Adding a foundry costs hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Ferroglobe's Bowes, and it is a lengthy process.
"Obviously capital—and not a small amount—is the major challenge, followed by the (environmental) permitting process. This presents big-time delays to adding capacity," Bowes said.
But all is not lost on this continent, as help from North American refineries Ferroglobe, Sinova and Mississippi Silicon appears to be on the way.
"The best response is that we have reopened our Selma, Ala., facility. We announced that last year when we started up one furnace," Bowes said. "And another will start up this month."
Bowes said the Selma plant had been inoperative since 2018. Total capacity with the addition was not immediately known.
"And that is additional domestic capacity coming back into the market," he said, adding that Ferroglobe has one other non-domestic option that is available as an import. "We are looking at a plant in South Africa that could also add capacity back into the U.S. market."
Mississippi Silicon did not return calls seeking comment. Its website notes that the Burnsville, Miss.-based company in 2015 invested $200 million to build anew, and now supplies about 10 percent of all silicon metal used in the U.S.
Mississippi Silicon works with the state governments of Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and the Tennessee Valley Authority in its operations.
And Edmonton, Alberta-based Sinova Global, a high-purity quartz and silicon metal products supplier, said in December 2021 that it will spend $150 million to open a new silicon metal refining plant in Tiptonville, Tenn.