Silex Systems to buy, recommission shuttered BP Solar facility in Sydney

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Silex Systems has conditionally acquired the manufacturing assets and equipment of the Sydney Olympic Park (SOP) solar photovoltaic production facility from BP Solar, which operated the Australian fab until March. Silex has also signed a conditional lease for the building which houses the SOP plant, so once the transactions are completed, the manufacturing facility–including infrastructure and services–will be secured relatively intact, according to the company. Both transactions are expected to be completed before the end of June.

Subject to the signoff of the deals, Silex anticipates that new manufacturing operations will involve a progressive roll-out of advanced technology and innovations, potentially including novel band-gap engineered materials being developed by its Silicon Valley subsidiary, Translucent.

“This is a unique opportunity for Silex to kick-start its commercial solar operations,” said
Michael Goldsworthy, Silex’s CEO. “More importantly, it opens the door for Silex to begin implementing some potentially exciting technical innovations aimed at higher-efficiency solar cells. Whilst the SOP plant provides a solid platform for the production of high-quality silicon solar cells, our aim is to ultimately become a leader in the solar industry through technology innovation.”

The SOP facility is said to be the largest solar manufacturing plant in the Southern Hemisphere, with annual production of more than 50 MW of crystalline-silicon solar cells and 10 MW of modules under previous operations. Silex says that the plant’s future capacity could potentially be expanded to 200 MW, and possibly more with improvements in cell efficiencies.

Initially, the fab will operate at a reduced capacity of 10-15 MW in 2010, ramping up to full capacity sometime between 2012 and 2015, depending on market demand, according to Silex. The time to market with product from the SOP plant, regardless of cell technology, is dictated by the product qualification process, which is expected to take approximately six months to complete.

During this period–which is planned to begin in July following finalization of the aforementioned transactions–Silex Solar says it will undertake maintenance and recommissioning activities, and produce the product samples needed for qualification testing later in the year.

The existing manufacturing equipment and facility are in good condition, although the company says it has budgeted up to AUS $500,000 in costs associated with the recommissioning effort over
the rest of this year. A team of about 20 engineers and technicians is being assembled to work on the efforts. If all goes to plan (noting that delays are possible), Silex hopes to generate its first sales in the first quarter of 2010.

The total capital investment required to implement the acquisition, recommissioning, and other aspects of the deal are estimated at AUS$7 million, according to Silex. The New South Wales government actively supported the acquisition as well.

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