REC Silicon still on track to reopen Moses Lake polysilicon factory in 2023

With production credits reinstated in a congressional appeasement bill, new plans for solar development may be back on the table in the United States. The current draft of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes $370 billion in energy and climate spending, with manufacturing credits as presented in the former Solar Energy Manufacturing for America (SEMA) Act still intact: solar-grade polysilicon ($ 3/kg), PV wafers ($12/m2), thin film and silicon PV cells (4¢/WDC), thin film and silicon PV modules (7¢/WDC).

The entire industry would be supported if credits are approved, but none more than Hanwha and REC Silicon. Hanwha, which is increasing its Qcells solar panel campus by 1.4 GW even without a loan guarantee, is the largest shareholder in REC Silicon and previously stated that the polysilicon plant in Moses Lake, Washington, which has been closed for years, will be closed by the fourth. Hanwha has pledged to secure North American manufacturing capacity across the entire solar supply chain – the company has signed a Canadian glassmaker for its Qcells modules and REC Silicon will receive silicon metal supply from Ferroglobe plants in the United States. United States.

Illustration showing the stages of making silicon solar panels. Illustration by Al Hicks/NREL

However, what is still missing are household solar silicon rods, wafers and cells. There are currently no North American suppliers of the important silicon product steps between feedstock and the final solar panel – at least not yet.

Solar Energy World spoke to Chuck Sutton, VP of FBR sales at REC Silicon, after finding permit plans filed with the Moses Lake City Council for an “ingot and wafer process” facility. Sutton couldn’t comment on anything specific, but said credits for solar energy production would shape the company’s future plans.

“We are acquiring land around us and exploring opportunities. It’s normal business,” he said.

In November 2021, before any official Hanwha involvement with the company, REC Silicon filed “Project Riser” with the Moses Lake City Council. Project Riser has detailed plans to repurpose nearby land from agricultural to industrial with the aim of building an ingot and wafer production site. The new building would be an extension of REC Silicon, but operated by a sister company. The city council approved the land use request of 162 hectares in March 2022.

REC previously owned the lots but sold them for agriculture when the polysilicon market turned in favor of cheaper Chinese production.

Project Riser Plans

“We never thought we’d be doing anything here again, so over time we sold some land,” Sutton said. “Now we see some other opportunities coming, so we thought we had to buy it back to have it.”

When the SEMA bill was first announced in June 2021, Sutton said “probably half a dozen” different companies said they wanted to build an ingot plant in the area to use Washington’s abundant hydroelectricity and near the polysilicon operations. to be from REC. Knowing how long the land purchase could take, REC decided to be proactive while debating SEMA credits.

If the IRA is approved, including credits for solar production, ingot and wafer processing could potentially begin in Moses Lake. Washington State Offers Tax Breaks to Solar Product Manufacturers, and the Governor Has Allotted $10 million for electrical infrastructure investment in the area of ​​REC. REC stated in permit documents that the development of Project Riser could create up to 2,500 jobs and $2 billion in construction costs.

However, REC Silicon is currently focused on restarting its polysilicon manufacturing operations at the Moses Lake plant. New engineering jobs have been placed and Sutton said the group will hire 150 people in the coming months to stay on track for production in Q4 2023. All of the site’s reactors are to be upgraded – the plant used to produce multicrystalline silicon and now the industry has switched to monocrystalline silicon.

Waffles come off the line at SolarWorld’s production facility in Oregon. Archive photo of the Oregon Department of Transportation

“Everything is now mono and moving to the n-type, so higher purity is where you need to be,” Sutton said. “Over the next year, we’re going to upgrade all of our reactors here in Moses Lake to handle that new process.”

REC Silicon is taking things day by day, but the future could hold bigger plans.

“Our largest shareholder (Hanwha) has publicly said that they are expanding in Georgia and want to do things in the United States. If we want to be in the mix, we have to have land available,” Sutton said. “We want to stay low-carbon, we want to do as much as possible in North America. Hopefully it will continue to work and we will continue to explore all those opportunities here.”

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