Quartz is one of the most developed and used industrial minerals on the planet.
Context for Quartz and Si -Metal (Silicon)
Quartz ore bodies are the source of elemental silicon (Si). Depending on the raw quartz silicon high content (95% to >99%), and trace contaminants, an enriched quartz may have different industrial uses. The elements, boron and phosphorous, are the most important contaminants to remove from the quartz intended for high-tech/ultra pure uses (photovoltaic or electronic). Petrography and mineralogical analysis are needed to assess the amount of oxides which constitute impurities in the quartz (Si02). Different avenues are open to exploit a high purity quartz deposit. In the last decades, high-tech applications using enriched quartz have evolved and the global supply does not follow the demand. China, Norway, Australia and Spain are the most important producers of raw silica products. Hydro-electricity cost is a crucial factor in implanting a crushing and beneficiation quartz plant. Here are the main markets for a quartz deposit.
Metallurgical grade is often referred as silicon metal (Si-M or MG-silicium) ˃95 to 99% Si content. It is used in aluminum or cast iron alloys. High quartz content ore has to be crush and shipped to a silica plant. At the end of January 2014, Grupo Ferroatlantica, the world leading manufacturer of silicone metal with 1M mt/year production, and the Québec provincial government, jointly announced an investment of $375M to establish a silica treatment facility in Québec. Metallurgical grade silica can be sent to established foundries in the ferro-alloy industries in Québec from which PAL received letters of intention (LOI).
PAL conducted a survey of the local producer of pristine white architectural quartz. None.
Some Quartzite is available across the country but is very fragile during cutting and transportation. The recuperation factor from the quarry is below 50% more in the range of 25-40%. Few Pristine quartz blocs or slabs are imported for local retail. There is a real interest for local providers of milky quartz in blocs for provincial and national supply. PAL received a LOI to buy quartz blocs, from a major distributor of quartz, granite and marble in Québec.
High-Tech grade or Ultra pure Si
The photovoltaic and electronic/semiconductor technologies utilize enriched quartz that have been cleaned of impurities, most importantly boron and phosphorous and various oxides. The beneficiated quartz is manufactured into Si metal ingots for following purposes:
- Photovoltaic cells or Solar grade silicium (SoG) must reach a Si content of 99,999%-99.9999% or 5N-6N;
- Electronics grade or semi-conductor silicium (EG) must reach a Si content of 99.9999999% or 9N. It is used for Semi-conductor and Fiber Optics technologies.
Chinese current produce polysilicone, for photovoltaic or electronics markets, at the lowest cost globally using conventional technology, often regardless of the environmental foot print. Innovative technology from Canada (Silinov) under patent in 45 countries, now at the pilot plant stage, allows competition with the Asian quartz beneficiation market with environmental friendly process and obtaining 7N purity polycrystalline silicone.
Typical silica and sand specifications, (by Industrial Minerals 2012)
- Clear glass sand 99.5% SiO2 0.5% other elements (5000ppm) 30$/mt
- Semiconductor filler, LCD and optical glass 99.8% SiO2 0.2% other elements (2000ppm) 150$/mt
- Low grade high purity quartz 99.95% SiO2 0.05% other elements (500ppm) 300$/mt
- Medium grade high purity quartz 99.99% SiO2 0.01% other elements (100ppm) 500$/mt
- High grade high purity quartz* 99.997% SiO2 0.003% other elements (30ppm) 5000$/mt *High grade quartz =Ultra pure quartz
Due to the intrinsic chemical and physical qualities of our quartz, its location and access to the markets, the low cost of hydroelectricity in Québec, its quantities, the good results obtained from the R&D realized at this date, the promising upcoming results of the next quartz enrichment testings, PAL has great opportunities to acquire a new available technologies such as SOLSILC, a innovative technology for producing Si Metal Solar Grade 6N at a price below 10$/kg. That will allow PAL, in time, to make a major breakthrough in the worldwide silicon market.