Last week, a Photovoltaic Industry connection brought the latest RSI Silicon news to my attention. Under News and Upcoming Events, the RSI Silicon homepage has:
Production to commence in the Easton facility.
along with a link to the February 2009 corporate presentation.
RSI Silicon claims to be ramping Solar Grade Silicon production now at their Easton plant to 1000 metric ton (MT) annual capacity by late 2009 and scaling to 30000 metric tons by early 2011.
A correction is in order for In Search of RSI Silicon; I understand two 1 MW (MegaWatt) arc furnaces are installed at the Easton site.
RSI Silicon corporate presentation
Although I recommend a thorough read including the RSI technology overview, I noted the following facts of interest from the presentation. Please see RSI Silicon: Solar Grade Silicon from Pennsylvania (then Alabama) for my prior post on the RSI Silicon process and patent filling.
In addition to the team shown in the Management tab, C. Edward Boardwine, the former Simcala CEO, is mentioned as the President (designate), RSI Solar Silicon, LLC, the planned 30000 MT manufacturing facility.
Quercus Trust has made two investments in RSI Silicon:
|Initial $5 million investment coinciding with RSI licensing the process technology
With a projected production cost of less than $15 per kilogram (kg), RSI Silicon’s production process:
Requires 12kWhr of electrical energy per kilogram vs. 212kWhr of electrical energy required by Siemens process to produce kg of high purity silicon
Carbon source is needed for the process -> RSI has found a suitable and abundant carbon supply and environmentally friendly characteristic
The carbon source might be prepared from a sugar solution or a solution of carbon black made from natural gas according to patent applications published by the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO):
United States Patent Application 20070217988 September 20, 2007
METHOD FOR MAKING SILICON FOR SOLAR CELLS AND OTHER APPLICATIONS
(WO 2007/106860) METHOD FOR MAKING SILICON FOR SOLAR CELLS AND OTHER APPLICATIONS
RSI Silicon has an exclusive license to the patent application, and the “Licensing agreement includes a royalty payment of $1/kg produced” payable to a trust controlled by the technology inventor, Steve Amendola.
In RSI Silicon’s Internal testing and verification done to date, only twenty-eight (28) arc furnace runs were required before the purity target was achieved. RSI claims the run 28 material was 5N silicon that yields 6N silicon after a final Directional Solidification (DS) step.
Q & A with RSI Silicon CEO Steve Amendola
In a first, RSI Silicon Founder, President & CEO Steve Amendola agreed to answer a few questions about the novel process he invented for producing Solar Grade Silicon using Sodium Silicate (Na2SiO3) as the silica feedstock.
Q: Have you sampled potential ingot, wafer, and cell customers at this point or is March production required for this?
A: Our production samples should go out in the next few weeks.
Prior samples were from smaller experimental furnaces not the production furnaces.
Q: Will you sample your solar silicon in 250-500kg quantities so existing manufacturing processes can be used to make solar cells?
A: Yes, that is why we needed to start the production furnaces to get samples of this size.
Q: Does RSI Silicon believe your silicon is suitable for mono and multicrystalline silicon solar cell production?
A: Yes. Both processes work by a difference in the solubility of impurities between molten and solid silicon. We see no reason why our material would not respond in both cases.
Q: Have any working solar cells been produced with your material from the lab or production?
A: Not yet, our customers will make cells from the samples that will go out in the next few weeks.
Q: What material loss occurs in the DS (Directional Solidification) step from 5N to 6N?
A: We do not expect any significant differences in the losses during DS with our material. In an ordinary 30″ crucible DS melt the top 1″ or so is cut off and all of the remaining 5 sides are also cut off to about 1/2″ to 3/4″. We believe the same cuts will work for our material.
Q: Can this lost material be recycled and for what purpose?
A: The 5 sides that are cut off can be recycled by us as the primary contamination from them is oxide from the crucible. However, the top 1″ piece would be better sold into the silicon alloy market rather than have us try to reuse it.
Q: How do you prevent excessive fines when drying your pure silica gel? Fines will cause problems running the Arc Furnace.
A: We have solved that problem; however, I am not at liberty to disclose that method.
Q: As I recall, BP Solar was mentioned as a customer early on. Is this still the case?
A: BP Solar has expressed interest in evaluating our samples.
Will March production and April samples brings forth May solar cell results and June long term contracts? Spring and Summer 2009 are shaping up as interesting times for RSI Silicon.