Arise Tech to build silicon plant in Canada, expand PV cell output

Waterloo, Ontario-based Arise Technologies Corp. announced this week that it plans to build a high-purity silicon production plant by 2011 that will supply up to 10,000 tonnes a year to the solar industry, including its own PV cell production facility in Germany. The company also said it will expand the 2012 production target for its German plant by 56 per cent to 560 megawatts.

The German facility is expected to start manufacturing a 35 MW-capacity production line later this month, making cells that are at least 15 per cent efficient. Line 2, in production in the first quarter of 2009, will increase plant capacity to 80 MW annually and produce cells that are up to 18 per cent efficient. The original plan was to work up to eight production lines, but the announcement of increased capacity will bring the number of lines to 12 by 2012, with each line becoming progressively more efficient — “more than 20 per cent cell efficiency,” the company said.

As for the Canadian silicon plant, Arise CEO Bart Tichelman said a location for the plant has not been determined. “We’re in the midst of site selection with several provinces as candidates,” he said, listing off B.C., Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland as possible candidates — largely because they have a lot of cheap renewable power. But he didn’t exclude Ontario, Arise’s home province. “Ontario has got some attractiveness to it,” he said. “Obviously we’re delighted with the support we’ve received from the federal and provincial governments, and it will clearly have an impact on where we go.”

Arise will be competing, in Canada at least, against Mississauga, Ontario-based 6N Silicon, which plans to manufacture solar-grade silicon in Ontario. Toronto-based Timminco Ltd. is also a big player in this space, having signed several long-term supply contracts over the past year or so, most recently a large contract with solar-cell leader Q-Cells of Germany. Arise, however, says it will focus on higher-grade silicon that achieves better efficiencies for solar cells.

If Arise can deliver, this is great news. But it makes you wonder why the company has made an announcement for something planned for 2011 and 2012, when clearly it didn’t have to. Arise has a history of making big promises or announcements promising deals a few years out, only to underdeliver or have such promises fade into distant memory. Contrast that to Vancouver-based Day4 Energy, which has laid out a more realistic plan backed by solid contracts and significant revenue growth.

Still, it’s encouraging to see the momentum building for Arise and I hope the company proves its skeptics wrong.