In the mid-1800s, Napoleon III, emperor of France, is reputed to have given a banquet at which he wanted to particularly honour certain of his guests. So instead of giving them utensils of solid gold, he instead gave the special guests utensils of pure... aluminum.

When the United States of America completed the Washington Monument in 1884, they wanted to demonstrate the economic and technological power of their country. So, to impress the world, they made the capstone out of ... aluminum.

By today's standards, these decisions are surprising. But in the 1800s, pure aluminum was a precious metal, more expensive than gold or platinum. This was not because aluminum was so rare; aluminum is the third most abundant element on earth, and the earth's most common metal, comprising over 8% of the earth's crust. But in the early 1800s, the process that was used to purify aluminum (the Walker process) was extremely expensive. As a result, even though the metallurgical advantages of aluminum were well known, it was not in common use.

With the development of the Bayer process in 1887, it became possible to produce aluminum at far lower cost. As a result, aluminum is now used in everything from soda cans to airplane fuselages.

The production of ultra pure silicon is today where aluminum was in the 1800s. The base element is very common (in fact, silicon is three times more common than aluminum!) but the cost of purification is so high that pure silicon is not being used to its full potential.

We believe that the PRISED "Shams-Kolahi" process for the refinement of materials can change the way the silicon is used, and therefore change the world, much as the Bayer process did a hundred years ago.

The term 'photovoltaic' refers to the direct conversion of solar energy to electrical energy. photovoltaics (PV) is the field of technology and research related to the development of solar cells, used to convert sunlight directly into electricity.

Sunlight is composed of a large number of photons, or packages of energy. When that sunlight hits a photovoltaic cell, it can be absorbed by the silicon. The extra energy conveyed by the photos is transferred to some of the electrons in the silicon atoms, causing them to break away from their atoms. Solar cells are designed to only allow these "loose" electrons to flow in one direction, effectively converting them into direct current (DC) electricity.

With existing solar cells, a three-acre solar farm would produce about one megawatt of power. One megawatt is enough to power about 800 U.S. homes.

Silicon, essentially sand, is the second-most abundant element on Earth. It has been used for centuries in the manufacture of various forms of glass, cement and ceramics. Since the start of the Computer Age, though, silicon has also been extensively used to make semiconductors, for computer chips and similar electronic devices (such as solar cells).

In order to be useful as a semiconductor, silicon must be refined to a purity of at least 99.999999% (known as "N8"), in factories that cost billions of dollars to build and operate.

The growth of the solar industry created a new source of demand for N8 silicon, as pure silicon makes up 45% of a photovoltaic cell's cost. The rapid growth of the solar industry (41% per year by MW installed since 2001) and the relatively small increases in refining capacity have placed a strain on the world supply. In 2004, demand outstripped supply, and in 2005 supply was 30% less than demand. As a result, solar-grade polysilicon prices have risen from $24 per kg in 2004 to $450 per kg in 2008. This dramatic increase in price has wide-ranging implications, from the cost of many consumer electronics to the future competitiveness of solar power.