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Orbite tech super-purifies silica used in solar panels, other products

Hugh-purity alumina plant to be completed this year.


September 20, 2012
by PLANT STAFF

MONTREAL — Orbite Aluminae has developed a technology based on its hydrochloric acid leaching process to highly purify silica used in solar panels and other products.

The clean tech company based in Montreal said this development allows it to purify silica to the 99.9% (3N) level and provides a conceptual base to eventually reach purities of 99.999% (5N) to 99.99999% (7N).

Orbite describes its patent-protected process as crushing, then acid leaching aluminous claystone found at its Grande-Vallée property. By using various temperatures and pH levels, the process selectively isolates the aluminum component and removes iron and other impurities.

The company estimates worldwide, metallurgical grade silica consumption was 1.37 billion metric tonnes in 2009 and 2.02 billion metric tonnes in 2010.

Silica graded higher than 99.99% purity is used to manufacture photovoltaic cells for solar power and other high-technology products.

In 2009, metallurgical grade silica was selling for approximately $3 per kilogram and higher quality silica (5N-7N) was selling for approximately $35 per kilogram.

“This is an important breakthrough, particularly considering that silica will be a by-product of our SGA and HPA plants and could provide a higher commercial value than we had anticipated. Our PEA assumption was for low-grade silica sold at a $25 per tonne,” said Richard Boudreault, president and CEO of Orbite.

Orbite said its high-purity alumina plant, to be completed by the end of 2012, is expected to produce silica of greater than 99.9% purity.

The company’s smelter-grade alumina (SGA) plant, projected to begin its first phase of operations in 2014, will have the potential to produce up to 1.2 million tonnes of silica ranging from 95% to more than 99.9% at maximum capacity.