MONTREAL, March 08, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- PyroGenesis Canada Inc. (http://pyrogenesis.com) (TSX-V:PYR), (the "Company", the “Corporation” or "PyroGenesis") a Company that designs, develops and manufactures plasma waste-to-energy systems and plasma torch systems, is pleased to provide herein a general update on its PUREVAP™ Project with HPQ Silicon Resources Inc (“HPQ”).
Mr. P. Peter Pascali, President and CEO of PyroGenesis, provides this update on PUREVAP™ in the following Q&A format. The questions, for the most part, are derived from inquiries received from investors, and analysts:
Q. For those that are new to the story, could you please describe to us what the PUREVAP™ technology is and some of its many advantages?
A. Most certainly. HPQ is the owner of quartz properties. Quartz can be processed, through multiple steps, into a high purity silicon metal which is an important element in solar panels. It helps convert solar energy into useful electricity. Many in the solar panel industry consider the cost of converting Quartz into solar grade silicon metal to be a limiting factor in the growth of the solar panel industry.
PyroGenesis was first engaged by HPQ to demonstrate, on a laboratory scale, that its one-step proprietary PUREVAPTM process could produce high purity silicon metal from quartz in just one step.
PyroGenesis was taken by the prospect of using a plasma-based process to convert Quartz into solar grade silicon metal as there seemed to be a strong market need for such. A number of years ago, a company by the name of Timminco saw its stock soar from 20 cents to over $30 and its market cap increased to over 3 billion of dollars when it was perceived that they had found a way to reduce the number of steps, not eliminate all steps, just reduce the number of steps, in the processing of quartz into solar grade silicon metal1. That is not to say that this is what we expect here, but it did give us confidence that there was a significant need for a cheaper way to make solar grade silicon metal and, on paper, at the time, it looked like plasma might be able to address issues where other processes failed (Figure 1).
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To date, we are very pleased with the results and, in fact, believe we have already demonstrated better results than the Timminco process had in its day.
Q. That is quite impressive and quick. Tell me…the project has been described in several phases; Gen 1, Gen 2, and now the Pilot Plant. Could you please explain what the targets were in each generation, what was accomplished, and what the targets are now?
It goes without saying that, from a 30,000 ft level, it all has to do with purity and production rates. GEN-1’s goal was simply to prove the concept on a bench test scale and, if possible, identify parameters that could affect purity and production rates. GEN-2’s goal was to test the observations in GEN-1 at scale more representative of the pilot unit and was also geared towards optimizing the final pilot scale design.
GEN-1 was limited in that it was a batch system. This means that the feedstock, quartz, was fed into the system in batches…i.e. there was not a continuous feed of material. This limited the running time to batch runs of only a few hours. GEN-1’s primary goal of proving out that the PUREVAP™ technology could convert quartz into pure silicon metal in only one step was successful. From tests with GEN-1, we were also able to estimate the impurity removal efficiency of the PUREVAP™ process which turned out to be higher than expected from bench tests.
Some of the most interesting developments with GEN-1 were the observations relating to production yield. GEN-1’s thermal efficiency was very low due to certain characteristics inherent with GEN-1 (excessive cooling rate and long ramp ups for example). To make a long story short, PyroGenesis was able to conclude, by the end of GEN-1, that operating under a batch process with low thermal efficiency, lowered production yield (i.e. % conversion of silicon in quartz to elemental silicon) and in turn production rate. In other words, we concluded that by increasing production yield, we would not only generate larger amounts of output (higher production rate), but that output, by all accounts, should be at higher yields of wanted end-product. This was later proven out in GEN-2 and remains an important parameter in the final purity of silicon metal.
Another significant observation with GEN-1 spoke to the efficiency of the PUREVAPTM process. During testing with the GEN-1, we used lower quality quartz to see how the system would handle impurities. Low and behold, we managed to produce high purity silicon metal. Not the high purity metal demanded by solar panels, but high enough to be suitable for other commercial applications. We found this to be extremely significant as it opened up other markets for the PUREVAPTM process which were not identified at the outset. Remember, the original goal was to convert high purity quartz to high purity silicon metal for solar panels…now we can add to that equation the conversion of low purity quartz to high purity silicon for other applications (such as casting and chemical industries).
In short, GEN-1 accomplished the following:
- Proof of concept: converting quartz to high purity silicon using PUREVAPTM,
- Production rates and yields move in step,
- Use of lower quality quartz for the production of high purity silicon: PUREVAP™ has a very high impurity removal efficiency which enables the use of lower quality quartz for silicon production.
GEN-2 was designed and fabricated to operate semi-continuously in order to test the observations made in GEN-1. We also wanted to operate at higher temperatures and confirm the impact of thermal efficiency on production yield and ergo, purity (i.e. the more heat that goes towards the process rather than being lost to various system components should allow for a higher rate of silicon production and as such higher product purity).
GEN-2 was also made at a scale more representative of the operating mode of the pilot unit and as such was also geared towards optimizing the final pilot scale design.
GEN-2 demonstrated the following:
- PUREVAP™ can operate semi-continuously,
- A higher thermal efficiency was obtained resulting in a higher operating temperature,
- A higher production yield was achieved.
The challenges going forward relate to typical scale up issues, as well continually improving the process and focusing on removing individual impurities towards achieving solar grade silicon metal. Given the accomplishments to date and that, in many aspects, the GEN-2 is similar to the pilot plant, we are confident that at the end of the day we will have a commercial success. However, we don’t know what we don’t know, right? That is what development is all about. I am confident that any challenges will be met head on, as they have in the past, by arguably the best team around to do that. Together with Apollon Solar, which have signed an agreement with HPQ to provide valuable input into the process, we are well positioned to successfully complete the design and testing of the next phase.