Canadian Startup targeting six nines (6N) or 99.9999% pure Solar Grade Silicon
6N Silicon Inc. first hit my radar screen with 6N Silicon Raises $6 Million in Venture Capital Financing led by Ventures West and Yaletown Venture Partners announced on July 10, 2007. At the same time, Sustainable Development Technology Canada contributed CDN $4 Million to a project to develop a pilot line to demonstrate 6N Silicon’s technology as one of their Round 10 Funded Projects.
At Solar Power 2007, I had a chance to sit down and talk with David Dunnison, 6N Silicon’s Vice President, Business Development.
Founder Scott Nichol started 6N Silicon on a credit card budget in 2006 and began developing a proprietary, low cost, metallurgical silicon purification process in 200 pound lab scale batches. With limited resources, 6N Silicon often acquired the cheapest and dirtiest silicon metal from sources such as China. This disadvantage challenged and improved their proprietary process so it does not require special silicon metal produced with high purity quartz and carbon material.
The 6N Silicon process produces a true solar grade material in contrast to both upgraded metallurgical grade silicon (UMG-Si) and downgraded electronics grade or near-electronics grade silicon. Improvement of the 6N Silicon process has been rapid and tracking ahead of the company’s aggressive development plans for high purity quality and process yield. In response to near term photovoltaic market demand, 6N Silicon plans to release an early stage solar grade material that can be mixed with electronics grade polysilicon for either multicrystalline or monocrystalline silicon solar cell manufacturing. By 2009, 6N Silicon expects to produce a solar grade silicon material suitable for the direct manufacture of multicrystalline and monocrystalline silicon ingots without mixing.
6N Silicon’s SDTC consortium members include McMaster University and Solar Power Industries, Inc. The Materials Science and Engineering Department of McMaster University is conducting research on segregation for this project leveraging their expertise in metallurgy. Scott Nichol obtained his degree in Materials Engineering from McMaster University. Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania USA based Solar Power Industries is a solar cell, module, and system manufacturer testing 6N Silicon’s solar grade material for the SDTC project.
6N Silicon has used the venture capital financing and SDTC project funding to construct a single shift 70 MT (metric ton) annual capacity pilot line in Mississauga, Ontario Canada near Toronto.
6N Silicon President and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Scott Nichol said:
With the successful commissioning of our pilot line, 6N Silicon is well ahead of schedule. The construction and commissioning of our pilot line was completed faster than we had anticipated. We have gone from having no facility in April to production in September. This exercise has confirmed that 6N Silicon’s production capacity can be expanded in a fraction of the time of conventional processes. We are very excited about the early results from our pilot line. Our purity levels are better than we had experienced and our chemistries are well ahead of plan.
Mr. Dunnison mentioned the gating item for the pilot line construction was not equipment related but upgrading the 12,000 square foot (1115 square meter) warehouse building’s electrical connection to handle loads beyond lighting. To put these energy requirements in context, the 6N Silicon process has a key advantage over the conventional Siemens process for polysilicon production. At pilot scale production, 6N Silicon claims their process requires much less than 25% of the typical energy consumption of the Siemens process. 6N Silicon expects further improvements in energy consumption, capital expenditures (CAPEX) efficiency, and cost optimizations as they scale their process to full production.
Although the pilot line has a three shift potential of 200 MTs of solar grade silicon production per year, 6N Silicon is focused on refining their process and qualifying their solar grade silicon with identified, select partners. For example, about 250 Kg (Kilograms) of solar grade silicon are required to cast a single multicrystalline ingot for qualification in solar cell production.
6N Silicon has been on a roll garnering the Canada’s Hottest Startups honor from Red Herring and, even more important, being one of the inaugural 2007 Deloitte Technology Green 15 Award winners. Here are links about 6N Silicon that may be of interest:
Clean tech cluster emerging around GTA
6N Raises Capital For Pilot Of Its Silicon Production Method
For solar photovoltaic companies desperately seeking silicon, Mr. Dunnison cautioned:
6N’s current plans are to work with a select group of solar cell manufacturers and potential partners to validate the 6N material. While the company appreciates the considerable interest that has been generated, it has chosen this route in order to stay focused on its rapid development path and produce a true solar grade silicon solution in the shortest time possible.
And I have to applaud 6N Silicon’s fine taste in Blogs.
Hi Ed, nice find. Your article gives a real insight into the mechanics of startups and importantly takes some of the mystique out of it. This is important and encouraging for wannabes like me.
25% of the Siemens process eh? This will have the big boys knocking on the door no doubt.
I always really look forward to your posts – keep it up.
Very interesting. This sounds like Hunter process that has been kicking around for a number of years. I have yet to see it commercialized but I hope it goes really well. The world needs a truly economical pure silicon source.