best today, better tomorrow
... our company's philosophy
Our company was founded in late 1987 when former owners, Barrack Mines Ltd, acquired the Western Australian Silicon Project from Agnew Clough and the Australian Industry Development Corporation. Construction of the silicon smelter began within the Kemerton Industrial Estate at Wellesley in 1988, with completion of the plant and commissioning of two furnaces occuring in December 1989/January 1990.
In 1996 Simcoa was purchased by Shin-Etsu Chemicals, Japan, a strong and resilient parent company who have driven growth and supported Simcoa's focus on people, performance and productivity.
In 2012 to meet global demand for silicon, a third furnace was built increasing output to approximately 52,000 tpa.
Simcoa now looks to a new and exciting future, where continual improvement underpins our progress through the years ahead.
Silicon (chemical formula Si) is a stable, relatively light, lustrous, grey element. It doesn't occur in nature in its elemental form but combines with oxygen and other elements to form oxides or silicates. Silicon, occurring in these forms, is the second most abundant element on Earth (oxygen being the most abundant).
The combination of silicon with oxygen (SIO2) forms the mineral silica. Although silica makes up nearly 60% of the earth's crust, silica deposits of the required purity and physical quality to produce elemental silicon are rarely located where they can be economically mined.
Simcoa owns such a deposit, some 350kms north of Wellesley, near Moora. The quartzite rock mined from this location contains a minimum of 99% silica which is considered suitable feed for the production of high quality silicon.
What is Silicon?
How is Silicon produced?
The following is a very simplified explanation of the process to give an overall view of silicon production...
Under the direct control of Simcoa's production specialists, the raw materials, quartzite and carbon (charcoal, coal and woodchip), are routinely sampled and analysed in Simcoa's laboratory, premixed and dropped down into one of our 3 submerged arc furnaces.
A furnace is essentially a circular steel shell which is carbon lined. Three carbon electrodes are suspended inside each furnace. The high heat required to drive the chemical process is derived by passing a very high electrical current through the carbon electrodes . This enables an electrical arc to form between the tip of the electrode and the carbon lined furnace shell. The temperatures generated by the electrical arc exceed 3,000°C. At this temperature the quartzite is turned to gas and the chemical bonds broken allowing the reaction to proceed.
The carbon combines chemically with the oxygen in quartz at this very high temperature, leaving behind molten silicon. At a temperature of between 1500°C and 1600°C this molten silicon is withdrawn (tapped) periodically from the bottom of the furnaces into a casting ladle.
During casting, a sample is taken for chemical analysis. The sample is analysed in Simcoa's laboratory and the solidified silicon is bunkered according to these laboratory results. From here it is processed and packed prior to shipment to our customers in Australia and overseas.
The end uses of silicon
Silicon plays a major part in people's everyday lives. Silicon's favourable molecular properties make it very attractive to use in many products that make our modern lives easier.
The ability of silicon to improve the strength of aluminium alloys has far reaching consequences for the transport industry. Aluminium alloys are light, yet strong and replace heavier cast iron components. Car wheels, cylinder heads and engine blocks are routinely seen made from aluminium alloys. Weight reduction in automobiles decreases fuel consumption and fuel emissions which in turn reduces green house gas emissions and plays a role in conserving our fossil fuels.
Silicon based polymers, known as silicones, provide an alternative to environmentally harmful hydrocarbon based products. We unknowingly use these polymers in everyday items from lubricants, greases and resins to skin and hair car products, bakeware, antiperspirants, polishes, anti foam agents and fabric softeners.
The electronic products that we rely on every day cannot operate without semi-conductor chips made from silicon.
Silicon plays an important role in the photovoltaic industries where solar panels, made from silicon, use the sun's rays to generate space and water heating, produce domestic and industrial electricity and power remote telecommunications, weather and irrigation facilities.
Today's modern high-speed communications are made possible by silicon. Optical glass produced from silicon is used to manufacture both optical fibre and liquid crystal displays.