Australian-owned renewables player Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners is looking to fund and develop a major polysilicon manufacturing plant in Townsville, North Queensland. The proposal would see Quinbrook have a hand in establishing alternate supply chains for the solar and battery products it purchases.
For the project, Quinbrook is partnering with Queensland company Solquartz, which has itself also been allocated a site at the Lansdown Precinct to develop a metallurgical silicon metal processing plant. The co-location of these facilities, Quinbrook says, will “enable Solquartz to accelerate and integrate its project into Quinbrook’s larger polysilicon manufacturing facility.”
This polysilicon manufacturing facility would ultimately source silica quartz from around the Townsville region and process it to manufacture polysilicon wafers for use in solar panels as well as battery technology. The proposed capacity of the polysilicon manufacturing plant has not been made public.
Quinbrook on Tuesday announced that it had been conditionally allocated a 200-hectare portion of the total 2,200-hectare Lansdown Precinct site through a council-run competitive tender process. Quinbrook says the “state-of-the-art polysilicon manufacturing facility” will be powered by a large-scale solar and battery storage project it plans to build on land adjacent to Lansdown.
Polysilicon is a basic building block for solar panels and has been the cause of much controversy in solar manufacturing as forced labour is suspected to be used in its production, which is also an emissions-intensive process. The polysilicon supply chain is today highly concentrated in Xinjiang, China.
While Australia has an abundance of silicon in the form of quartz, it currently does not produce any polysilicon – something which is widely considered a weak spot in terms of decarbonisation. In 2022, a report from the CSIRO, authored by PwC, highlighted the urgent need for Australia to develop a domestic silicon and solar cell supply chain.
Quinbrook’s plan seems to be answering these calls, with Townsville Mayor, Jenny Hill, saying “this is an especially exciting announcement because Quinbrook are not only the developers and sponsors, but also the project funders, which means the money is on the table.”
“Once the right operating partner is chosen by the company, the project can move forward at a rapid pace, subject to the normal government approvals,” Hill added.
Exactly what kind of “operating partner” Quinbrook is searching for is not yet known, nor have any exact timelines for the facility’s development been provided. Quinbrook did, however, note that the conditions of its land allocation include a strict timeline to develop the project as well as contributing to critical Lansdown infrastructure.
Quinbrook’s Senior Director Brian Restall said the company had targeted Lansdown because of its clear competitive advantages as a site for large scale manufacturing powered by renewables, logistics, site infrastructure and port access for export.
“Lansdown is close to the source of some of the best silica quartz resources in the world and it has the land and site infrastructure we need to build a truly state of the art manufacturing facility that will be powered by renewable energy,” Restall said.
“Close proximity to the port and multiple transport corridors make it a very compelling location for energy intensive, export driven ‘green’ manufacturing.”
“We have strong relationships with and are a major customer of leading solar and battery manufacturers across the globe – meaning components manufactured here in Townsville will be exported to these leading manufacturers and made into finished solar modules and batteries.
“Our aim is that Quinbrook will ultimately purchase that equipment for our global power generation projects with total confidence in the supply chain that produced them,” Restall added.
The Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct is seeking to co-locate clean energy generation with industrial and manufacturing facilities across 2,200 hectares of dedicated land south of Townsville. It was declared a project of state significance by the Queensland government in March this year, 2023.
The Precinct is aiming to be Northern Australia’s first environmentally sustainable advanced manufacturing, technology and processing hub. Among the companies working on projects at Lansdown are Edify Energy and Queensland Pacific Metals.
In 2022, renewables developer Edify Energy became the first to be granted development approval to build and operate a green hydrogen production plant of up to 1 GW, as well as a behind-the-meter solar and battery storage facility within the Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct.
Meanwhile, Queensland Pacific Minerals is developing a project dubbed the Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub (TECH) project, seeking to refine ore to produce battery-grade nickel and cobalt sulphate for battery manufacturing. The TECH project is aiming to refine approximately 1.6 million tonnes of ore annually.
Magnis Energy Technologies, an Australian graphite miner turn integrated lithium battery company, had initially announced plans to build an 18 GWh lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facility at Lansdown, but quietly abandoned that plan in February, 2023.
Nonetheless, the Queensland government is throwing its support behind Lansdown, and on Monday announced a $1.3 billion package to progress work on CopperString 2032, a transmission project which would connect Queensland’s North West Minerals Province to Australia’s national grid around Townsville.
With Lansdown located in Townsville, the CopperString 1,100-kilometre, high voltage electricity transmission network would open up tracts of land previously closed to solar and wind development to enable more green energy, and ultimately more green manufacturing, in the Northern Queensland region.
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