Tongwei Founder Liu Hanyuan Sees Fortune Fall In Spite Of Global Appetite For Silicon, Solar Products

This story appears in the November 2022 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia

This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of China’s Richest 2022. See the full list here.

The world’s energy crisis has powered up the bottom line of new energy tycoon Liu Hanyuan’s Tongwei Group. The world’s largest producer of high-purity silicon used in solar panels has seen demand surge for its solar products. Still, market woes hit Liu’s fortune, which fell to $12.4 billion, putting him at No. 20 on this year’s list of China’s richest.

Net profit in the first nine months nearly quadrupled to 21.7 billion yuan ($3 billion) on 102 billion yuan in revenue at the group’s listed arm Tongwei Co. as the price of silicon soared earlier this year to a record high. Its solar power business—comprising the production of solar-grade silicon and solar batteries—accounted for three-quarters of group sales. Liu stepped down as chairman of Tongwei Co. in 2019 but remains at the helm of the group.

Revving up expansion, the company aims to produce at least 350,000 tons of solar-grade silicon annually by the end of 2023, up from nearly 110,000 tons last year, and 80 gigawatts (GW) of solar batteries. It’s already the global market leader of solar batteries by shipment at over 30GW.

Liu set up Tongwei Group in 1992 as a fish feed supplier, diversifying into energy in 2013 with his purchase of a Chinese solar panel maker. Tongwei continues to produce 10 million tons of fish and livestock feed annually, selling to China and Southeast Asia. That got a boost from pandemic lockdowns that spurred the high-margin market for ready-to-cook meals, including fish and meat dishes.

Combining the two businesses has become another venture: Over 50 of Tongwei’s solar farms are built on its aquafarms to save space, which Tongwei promotes as tourist destinations. Last December, a 2.8-million-square-meter site in the coastal province Shandong was awarded a triple-A rating from the tourism ministry for a scenic spot (the Great Wall in Beijing has five).

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