The silicon carbide industry in the spotlight – Energy Intensive Industries (EIIs) and the sustainability transition

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Abstract

Transitioning of energy intensive industries (EIIs) towards more sustainability forms an important building block in achieving the Paris climate goals. Silicon carbide (SiC) production is such an EII, though it has not yet received much attention in systemic research. This thesis attempts to fill this gap by studying how SiC flows through the global economy. The objectives are to describe the SiC supply chain, quantify its flows and analyse the supply chain’s resilience. Findings: The global SiC production capacity constitutes 1 000 000 t per year. With 55.34% the Asia Pacific region is the biggest producer, followed by Europe with 32.7%, rest of world with 7.96% and North America with 4%. In order of quantity, abrasives, metallurgy, refractories, technical ceramics, other industrial uses, semiconductors and jewellery are the main applications of SiC. Around 5% of the material is recycled (USGS, 2021). High energy requirements in SiC production, as well as strict emission regulations are identified as the main supply risks. Substitution, use reduction, recycling and stockpiling can only minimally absorb supply disturbances at their current state. However, recycling is currently a popular topic in the industry and under development. In the mid-term, recycling activities might become a way to increase supply chain resilience. Another strategy that could lower pressure on the supply chain is using SiC production to balance the energy grid. That is, to produce when there is an oversupply of energy and to halt production when there is a shortcoming. Implications: This thesis shows that sustainability efforts in the SiC industry are not only environmentally desirable, but might also add to its supply chain’s resilience. The case of SiC shows that small EIIs that have so far not received much attention can offer high returns in terms of knowledge gained.

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