RSi Solar Grade Silicon Woes [Updated]

The RSi (Renewable Silicon International) Easton facility has been shuttered.

RSilogo Yesterday, I received an anonymous tip that said, in effect, the RSi Silicon Forks Township facility appears to be locked up tighter than a drum, a For Sale sign is located on the front lawn, and a Northampton County Sheriff’s Notice of Possession is posted on the front door.

I had myself been wondering about RSi’s status since my RSi Solar Grade Silicon Plant Tour post in December.

In response to my inquiry, RSi President, Inventor & Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Dr. Steve Amendola said:

Yes, it is closed.
Due to the current pricing pressures we have not been able to maintain the level of investor interest necessary to maintain our prior burn rate.
We have a temporary place in Edison NJ.
We still have an excellent technology and are still looking for far-sighted partners that may be willing to participate in what would still be a promising long-term future.

RSinotice Lack of sufficient funding prevented RSi from ever producing commercial sized 100 to 400 kg (kilogram) customer samples of solar grade silicon using their ChemArc process at the Easton, Pennsylvania USA, facility. I was able to confirm the two (2) modified 500 MT (Metric Ton) arc furnaces remain at the Easton site, and I presume their fate is tied to the building or other pending actions in Northampton County. I found an online industrial property record offering the Easton facility for sale or lease since February 29, 2012, from LoopNet, Inc. (NASDAQ:LOOP).

With the backdrop of photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing overcapacity and module oversupply, polysilicon spot prices are expected to hit new lows in 2012. In China, Digitimes Research reports average polysilicon spot prices were $22.50 per kilogram last week already close to IHS, Inc. (NYSE:IHS) information that “spot prices this year for polysilicon are expected to decline further and reach $22 per kilogram by the end of 2012”.

Solar grade silicon material of 6-7N (six 99.9999% to seven nines 99.99999%) purity has the lowest spot and contract prices per kilogram. High efficiency silicon solar cells require higher purity polysilicon, and higher efficiency modules command better average selling prices. On the technology front, thin silicon wafers enabled by companies like Twin Creeks Technologies are poised to disrupt the crystalline silicon solar value chain and reduce the grams of polysilicon required per Watt by almost an order of magnitude without kerf loss. As a result, the near term prognosis for RSi is bleak as PV industry consolidation looms.

Nonetheless, solar grade silicon continues to attract the attention of alchemists. Just last week in “Solar-grade silicon at low cost”, scientists at the University of Cambridge claimed a new application of the Fray-Farthing-Chen (FFC) Cambridge Process could produce solar grade silicon for $8 per kilogram or less. The two-stage process claims to use white sand and calcium chloride as feedstock. The white sand reference is a concern. Wouldn’t a high purity quartz gravel or powder material be more appropriate?

I’ve been a bit unmotivated and lazy the past few weeks. Sorry about that.

One comment

  1. Mark Wendman says:

    Sad tale of woe at one of the more, if not most innovative silicon purification efforts ( near equal of 6N Silicon / calisolar / Silicor which has survived crossing the chasm still ).

    It sounded like RSI’s progress for unknown reasons was too slow for fast declining prices but the innovation was nearly astounding, brilliant ( possibly attributable to slow deliveries of their large cathodic arc furnaces – where 6N / Silicor did not need cathodic arc equipment, hence logistics for 6N Silicon initial production scale up might have been easier / shorter timeframe? ( just speculating ). I hope they survive.

    Re Cambridge FFC, I think while it is interesting I suspect the Molten salt electrolysis is not a purification step, it seems largely a replacement pathway for cathodic arc silicon metals formation ( via alternate chemical pathway ).

    FFC I doubt itself will form 6-7 nines silicon purity without prepurification of the feedstock ( which is what analogously RSI did – RSI has a novel cost effective aqueous feedstock purification at low temperature, and RSI uses the formed ultrapure raw materials to do a very clean cathodic arc SiO2 > Si reduction process.

    FFC would likely need some means that was cheap to prepurify their feedstocks and then use as feedstock input to FFC. Some of the, if not most of the novelty of RSI ( brilliant innovation ) was how to cheaply produce amazingly pure feedstocks and then use plain jane but ultrahigh purity Cathodic Arc reduction.

    Amendola was brilliant technically, and sad to see this drop by the wayside ( which in a better world it hopefully might survive ) If he was luckier, his output purities might equal or best common ULSI Electronic grade silicon, and he might still have huge business prospects. I hope this might be the case…

    I hope for the best for RSI….

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