RSi Solar Grade Silicon Plant Tour

[Easton, Pennsylvania USA]

No customer solar grade silicon samples yet.
Dow Corning vs. RSI Silicon lawsuit settled, and “XYZ Co.” revealed as
Centrifugal Casting Machine Company, Inc.

From RSi Solar Grade Silicon Plant Tour

On short notice, RSi (Renewable Silicon International) President, Inventor & Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Dr. Steve Amendola agreed to a plant tour before the Thanksgiving Day holiday when I was back in New Jersey. I was extended an invitation to visit the facility during the RSi ramping up to Solar Grade Silicon production interview. I wanted to wait until an arc furnace was in operation. My prior In Search of RSI Silicon visit was uninvited.

Before the tour, Steve Amendola discussed RSi’s status and the state of the solar silicon market. Alas, the customer solar grade silicon sample milestone was not achieved. Dr. Amendola cited a vendor delay as the cause for the slip, and, without wanting to overcommit, thought the samples could be produced soon, perhaps before the end of 2011. On an objective basis, I did notice more cars in the parking lots than three years ago, and there was hiring activity for production positions during my short visit.

While acknowledging the polysilicon oversupply situation, Dr. Amendola remained confident the ChemArc process offered a path to lower cost, 6N+ (greater than six 99.9999% pure) solar grade silicon than the traditional Siemens process. RSi continues to position their solar grade silicon as the lowest cost material for multicrystalline silicon (mc-Si) solar cells requiring no blending and no changes to customer manufacturing processes. With the ongoing market correction of polysilicon spot prices, quoted as low as $21 per kilogram in China per DIGITIMES Research, there isn’t much runway left for innovative solar grade silicon processes to undercut the prime material in the near term. In parallel, RSi is investigating markets for ChemArc intermediate products. For example, high purity silica has applications in fiber optics and the electronics industry.

My RSi plant tour began with the analytical and research laboratory located in the front offices of the 180230 square foot (16744 square meter) facility mirroring the trail blazed by Engineering TV with Electronic Design’s Technology Editor Bill Wong in:

Tour of RSi Solar Grade Silicon Manufacturing Plant
by Curtis Ellzey on July 08, 2011

Rather than rehash the same tour, I’ll share my own observations and differences from the above video.

Besides the analytical equipment, I saw a lab bench setup used to develop and refine the wet chemistry portion of the RSi ChemArc processing of water glass, sodium silicate (Na2SiO3), into high purity silica (SiO2). As I walked with Steve Amendola towards the pilot scale version of the ion exchange column tanks at the back of the facility, a small lab arc furnace was in operation creating new solar silicon samples for ongoing process research. This lab arc furnace near the cooling towers was not part of the tour.

In hindsight, I did not observe or ask how the purified silica or carbon derived from sugar is dried and crystalized into a form suitable for use in the submerged arc furnace.

At the two (2) 1 MW (MegaWatt) submerged arc furnaces, enhancements were apparent since the Engineering TV video. As shown in the top photo, the arc furnace shell and hearth were open and lined with graphite. I did not pay much attention to the graphite electrodes at the time. From the instrumentation, Core Furnace Systems, now called Tenova Core, a multi-business unit of the Tenova Group, is the supplier of the submerged arc furnaces used at RSi. A hood enclosure has been installed around the ground level tap hole so the pure molten silicon can be tapped in the presence of Argon gas preventing interaction with air.

From RSi Solar Grade Silicon Plant Tour

Winding up the tour, I commented the pilot process was batch oriented. Dr. Amendola pointed out the sodium silicate and sugar wet chemistry purification processes were continuous. Earlier, Dr. Amendola told me RSi was seeking an additional $10 to $15 million in CAPEX (capital expenditures) funding to further automate and build out the pilot line.

Solar Grade Litigation: Dow Corning vs. RSI Silicon settled
During my normal due diligence, I checked on the status of the lawsuit on the US Court’s
PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system. I found the STIPULATION OF SETTLEMENT AND DISMISSAL OF CLAIMS had been filed on December 2, 2011, after the parties entered into a Confidential Settlement Agreement.

The Memorandum of Law re 62 MOTION for Summary Judgment Redacted Version filed by RSI SILICON INC., RSI SILICON LLC, RSI SILICON PRODUCTS LLC, on September 26, 2011, confirms the lawsuit revolved around a centrifugal (rotational) casting process for refining molten silicon as speculated in Solar Grade Litigation: Dow Corning vs. RSI Silicon. The memorandum, written from the defendant’s perspective, reads like a short novel (embedded below) with a key point hinging on an incorrect assumption embodied in an email from RSi to Centrifugal Casting Machine Company, Inc. (CCMCO). CCMCO was already under NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with Dow Corning at the time developing solar grade silicon refining technology. RSi claims to have only been interested in separating silicon from silicon carbide in five (5) kilogram batches using the so-called spin caster because their lab arc furnace did not achieve high enough temperatures.

During the lawsuit, the Dow Corning Corporation patent application covering the contemplated trade secrets was published at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on June 9, 2011, with a priority date of December 1, 2009, as shown below:

(WO/2011/068736) ROTATIONAL CASTING PROCESS

Given the frenetic legal activities, does Dow Corning really plan to step back into Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon (UMG-Si) production again in the future?

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