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Blog: Chemical Firms are Spending Again on Green Technologies

4:21 AM MST | November 19, 2010 | By ALEX SCOTT

Total announced in recent days that it will build a photovoltaic panel production and assembly plant at Moselle, France near to its Carling ethylene facility. The implications of such a move are multiple; firstly as the new facility will be located close to the Carling petrochemical complex it sends out a signal that Total wants to be operating in the area in the long term future.
 
Another point of significance resulting from this announcement is that the project initially was announced in 2009. This is the second such project to come off the shelf in recent days following Solvay’s announcement that it will spend more than $100 million to replace mercury cells at it s chlor-alkali plant at Tavaux, France with membrane technology. Solvay had initially announced the project in 2008, but shelved it then because of the global financial crisis. The membrane technology not only is greener but it will save Solvay large amounts of money via a 25% reduction in the plant’s electricity costs. It appears that the market conditions are such that there is now more confidence in spending money on being greener and cleaner.
 
An additional observation about Total’s move to manufacture photovoltaics is that Total appears to be unsure which solar direction is the best to go in. The group has investments in a range of solar energy technologies including crystalline silicon technology via its subsidiaries Photovoltech; and Tenesol; a nearly 25% in Konarka, an organic solar technology firm; and a 25.4% stake in AE Polysilicon, a U.S. start-up specializing in a novel solar polysilicon technology.
 
That Total has a play in crystalline polysilicon and a foot in other solar material technologies would appear to be a shrewd move; Lux Research, a market research group in a report published this week observes that crystalline silicon solar modules remain the cost/price benchmark for the solar industry. The newer technologies of organic solar don’t have the edge quite yet and some are under price pressure from crystalline silicon. Many thin film technologies such as those using cadmium telluride, or copper indium gallium diselenide “are under the gun to improve margins or face extinction,” Lux says.













 
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