With a global silicon metal industry valued at over US$12 billion, revolutionizing the process for turning quartz into solar and electronic grade silicon metal feels like it could be a profitable exercise. This is what Canadian developer of plasma processes, PyroGenesis Canada, is attempting with the Purevap process, which is owned by Canadian exploration company HPQ Silicon.
The process is a one-step method that transforms quartz into high purity silicon metal, while simultaneously removes tricky impurities, such as Boron. The logic behind the new process is that by just having one step, the process eliminates significant overheads, thus creating a cheaper alternative to current methods.
While the process itself is being developed by PyroGenesis, it is wholly owned by exploration company HPQ Silicon. HPQ CEO Chairman and CEO Bernard Tourillon explained to pv magazine that his company is 100% funding the project, so that it will be the only company that is able to use the new innovative technology. As part of the CDN$8,260,000 contract, PyroGenesis is committed to developing and commissioning a 200 metric tonne (MT) per year Purevap pilot system.
Successful first testing phase
There were two major positives that came out of the first series of testing; that the process is capable of producing high purity silicon metal, and that the process can remove boron and other key impurities.
In fact, the purity levels exceeded expectations with results as high as 99.97% from the 15 tests that were undertaken. PyroGenesis believes that this can be improved to 99.991%, as it had indications that the carbon used for the testing may have been contaminated by Sulphur. The Purevap process also showed that it was capable of removing Boron and other key impurities, that negatively impact the electrical properties of PV solar systems.
To say that we are thrilled with the final results from our Phase 1 testing program is an understatement, said Tourillon in a statement. We have officially achieved almost 4N material purity and, more importantly, now have the data necessary to implement the pathway to higher purity levels, right up to solar grade silicon metal. We are especially pleased with the fact that the Purevap Quartz Reduction Reactor exceeded our expectations by producing 99.97% purity material on the first attempt, as well as impressing us with its significant removal of impurities including boron.
Now that the first phase of testing is out of the way, PyroGenesis plans on getting on with Phase 2, which is expected to be completed within the next 6 months. Tourillon outlined that he is confident that PyroGenesis will be able to scale-up the process to commercial level.
Once this happens, the potential is enormous, as it could have a significant impact on the global solar industry. On top of that, metallurgical grade silicon metal consumption is already expected to grow by more than 6% each year, and a new, cheaper process for production could see global demand increase further.
We are clearly breaking new group in a very exciting industry where the initial results are very promising, commented PyroGenesis President and CEO Peter Pascali. Key milestones are being reached and the path towards higher purity levels is becoming clearer. We do not expect the future to be without its challenges, but so far, the results produced are better than what we had anticipated.