'Electrification of everything': REC Silicon announces deals

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | October 14, 2020 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — REC Silicon announced late Tuesday a pair of deals that could establish Moses Lake as a future center for “the electrification of everything.”

In the first deal, REC announced a partnership with solar panel startup Violet Power to supply the company with solar-grade silicon for its proposed solar module and panel manufacturing plant, set to be located near REC’s plant on Road N NE.

In early September, Oregon-based Violet Power announced it would lease space across from REC to build solar modules and solar panels using REC’s solar-grade silicon, produced using a patented, continuous process. It would be the first new U.S. solar panel factory in many years to make panels from ingots and wafers created in the United States, and the hope is to begin production by the middle of 2021.

“Our goal is to re-start, and revitalize U.S. manufacturing, bringing critical energy security and resiliency to the U.S.,” said Violet Power founder and CEO Desari Strader in a press release. “This partnership secures domestic supply chain self-reliance.”

“The time is now,” Strader added.

More than 90 percent of solar power modules and panels are made in China. Because of a trade dispute dating back to 2013, REC has been unable to sell its solar-grade silicon to panel makers in China, and the company shuttered its Moses Lake plant, ceasing production of solar grade silicon in 2019.

According to an REC press release, both Oslo-based REC and Violet Power will also work together to develop other “input materials” for environmentally friendly and secure energy generation.

REC President and CEO Tore Torvund said the deal will give the companies the ability to supply solar components and panels to the rapidly-expanding U.S. solar market and means “hundreds of new jobs” as a result.

In the second deal, REC announced that it is partnering with Woodinville-based Group14 Technologies to begin building silicon-carbon anodes for rechargeable batteries in Moses Lake.

The facility will be located on REC Silicon’s Moses Lake property, with work on the battery facility slated to begin in 2021, according to a second REC press release. The facility will be the first in the world to commercially produce silicon-based battery anodes, according to the press release.

The anode is the negative portion of the battery where electricity flows in, making it a crucial component for rechargeable batteries. Silicon is significantly more efficient than carbon at recharging, but expands to three times its original size when electrons flow through it.

According to Group14’s website, the company has developed a technology that hangs a silicon-carbon composite on a graphite “scaffold,” making recharging more efficient while limiting how much the silicon can expand.

The technology is designed to help meet the demand for batteries of ever-higher capacity for devices as varied as cars, cellphones and even airplanes, the press release noted.

“REC Silicon produces the highest-quality silane (silicon gas) with the lowest carbon footprint, allowing us to develop clean lithium-silicon battery materials to enable the electrification of everything,” said Group14 Technologies CEO and co-founder Rick Luebbe in a press release.

REC Silicon currently has an outstanding property tax bill with Grant County totaling $9.3 million dating from 2013, when the company began disputing the county’s assessed value of its Moses Lake facility following its inability to sell its product to companies in China. Of that, $4.8 million is the unpaid tax and $4.5 million is interest due, according to the Grant County treasurer’s web page.

Commissioner Richard Stevens, speaking at a meeting of the Grant County Commission on Tuesday, said the county is close to finalizing a deal on the disputed taxes. He did not give any details on the deal, noting only that lawyers from both sides were still reviewing it.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.