Easton PA (SPX) May 24, 2011
At RSI Silicon Products the process of making silicon for solar panels is all sweetness and light. Literally. "Our process uses sugar cane or sugar beets," Inventor Steve Amendola said of RSI's newly patented renewable, and carbon-neutral process for making solar-grade silicon with a purity of 99.9999+ percent.
"Actually, RSI was also the first to achieve 'six 9s' of purity, on experimental scale, for solar-grade silicon."
Amendola, who is also the founder, president, and CTO of RSI, said the cleanest way to make solar-grade silicon in the USA is also the cheapest way.
"RSI's proprietary methodology means its capital investment is just one-tenth the amount required by the industry standard 'Siemens method," he said.
Incredibly, RSI's method uses less than one-eighth as much energy as well.
"We're as close to carbon-neutral as you can get," he declared. "Yet even as we've created this clean new process for making silicon, we've also significantly lowered our cost of production. Not surprisingly, buyers are interested."
Amendola credited his training in both inorganic chemistry and metallurgy for the breakthrough. "Essentially, I came at the problem with a different background, whereas 90 percent of the work in the solar industry is done by metallurgists.
"There was really nothing in the loop that offered a renewable supply chain model," Amendola said. "One of the key ways in which RSI's process is different is that it cleans up the raw material using wet chemical methods before it goes into the silicon furnace.
"Our process achieved particular success in removing boron and phosphorus," Amendola noted, "and in attaining extremely high levels of silicon purity."
Amendola observed that currently there is a worldwide shortage of solar-grade silicon. Manufacturers are feeling the pressure to identify new sources for silicon from which to make solar panels. "The shortage is particularly acute in China due to quality issues," Amendola noted.
He explained that the conventional process for making solar-grade silicon takes a lot of energy and involves the use of toxic chemicals and even hazardous waste emissions at companies that are not always focused on environmental issues.
He also noted that the silicon market for solar is now bigger than for electronics.
"China is a huge solar supplier, Amendola noted. "Unfortunately, silicon and solar panel manufacturing in China is slow to regulate methods and uses old technology that may waste more energy than the solar panels are supposed to save."
In the past three years, the wholesale price for solar panels has fallen 60 percent to about $1.70 per watt. Amendola noted that RSI "has the capacity to make a major impact in the lowering the cost per watt in the next few years."
While it usually takes two to three years of solar power generation to pay back the energy used in the manufacture of the solar panels and materials, Amendola noted that "the low cost and low energy use of the RSI manufacturing process will lower the payback period to just months.
"The lowest-cost producer for solar-grade silicon was at $30 per kilogram," Amendola said. "RSI is in the low teens per kilogram."
Always looking for ways to inject renewable elements into RSI's supply chain, Amendola said he has made an unusual addition to the production process.
"We are now using a renewable and carbon-neutral feedstock, and may be able to use a rice waste product as the other feedstock," he said. "Think of it as a green way to lower costs."
It's the kind of innovation that Amendola believes has established - and will keep - RSI Silicon Products as the industry leader in affordable, renewable, and clean solar-grade silicon.
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