Hoku plant makes its first batch of polysilicon
Paul said his workforce put in long, exhausting hours throughout the test. Two six-person crews worked 12-hour, back-to back shifts. Paul noted the majority of the employees are local people who had no experience in the polysilicon industry before joining the company between six months and a year ago.
“To be able to get equipment on line and make polysilicon in ... reactors as smoothly as we did I believe may be unprecedented for a start-up plant,” Paul said.
Paul added that all of the workers were trained in-house and will be relied upon to train new workers.
“These guys are that seed, that first group that has learned how to do it and done it successfully,” Paul said. “This is the group that will be our future trainers, plant supervisors, managers and will grow with the company. I think the opportunity for this group is really unlimited.”
Hoku has solicited applications during the past two years and already has resumes of several qualified workers, assuming they’re still available, Paul said.
“It’s a huge milestone. This dates back four years since we announced we were going to start this plant. ... A lot of people thought we would never get this far,” Paul said.
Indeed, Hoku faced a myriad of challenges as it sought to build a $390 million factory during the severe economic downturn. The recession forced a major slow-down of building on the plant, and at one point last summer, JH Kelly and several subcontractors had $16 million in liens active against Hoku.
Then in December, Hoku announced a deal with Tianwei New Energy Holdings Co., Ltd., to secure the necessary funding to complete the plant and resolve debt issues. Under the agreement, Hoku issued 33,379,000 new shares of its common stock to Tianwei and granted the company an option to buy another 10 million shares at $2.52 per share. The deal gave Tianwei the majority investment in Hoku.
Once complete, the local plant will be capable of producing 4,000 metric tons of polysilicon per year to be used for making solar panels.
Paul noted the raw materials used for making the test batch of polysilicon weren’t of the highest quality, and
handling practices weren’t up to the standards that will be employed once the plant is fully operational. Nonetheless, he anticipates Hoku will find a buyer for the test batch.
After news of the test was released, Hoku’s stock (NASDAQ: HOKU) closed up 17 cents at $2.79.
Paul said the price of polysilicon has gone up a little bit during the past few months, and he’s heard forecasts that there could be a supply shortage later this year.
Gynii Gilliam, executive director of Bannock Development Corp., was among the local economic development
officials involved in recruiting Hoku. She was thrilled by the news of the company’s successful test.
“It’s been a long, bumpy and interesting ride, and I’m glad we’re at this very historical moment where it’s like,
‘Yay!, we can finally move forward now,’” Gilliam said.
Given the number of established companies that haven’t survived the recession, Gilliam believes Hoku’s test is all the more impressive.
“It took a whole lot of people, and everybody did it,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam recently announced news that four large companies, including three in the energy sector, are eyeballing
Pocatello as a potential place to locate. Some of those companies would bring new opportunities for Hoku, she
“There’s some possible collaborations most definitely,” she said.
April 30, 2010
BY JOHN O’CONNELL