SILEX – Separation of Isotopes by Laser EXcitation

 

Silex is pioneering the development and commercialisation of its proprietary laser-based isotope separation technology known as SILEX.

The unique SILEX technology has a number of potential commercial applications, including:

  Uranium Enrichment – nuclear fuel for electricity production.
  Silicon Enrichment – for advanced semiconductor materials.
  Carbon Enrichment – for advanced semiconductor and medical diagnostic materials.

Together with development partners, SILEX is leading the world in developing technologies to create and utilise a new generation of ultra-pure “isotopically engineered” materials.

Uranium Isotopes

 

uranium diagram

Nuclear Fuel requires Uranium “enriched” in the 235 isotope.

The SILEX Uranium Enrichment Process is the world’s only third generation laser-based technology under development today.

The SILEX technology has a number of potential advantages over existing isotope separation processes including:

 Low power consumption and capital costs.
 Modular technology providing versatility in deployment.

SILEX technology utilises lasers to separate or enrich the naturally occurring isotopes of an element to create ‘new’ materials with different qualities. This technology results in applications with potentially significant market value.

 

Potential Applications include:

Nuclear Semiconductor Medical Diagnostic
Uranium Silicon Carbon
Gadolinium Carbon Oxygen

Uranium

 

 

Historically, Uranium Enrichment has been Silex’s primary focus.

Uranium Enrichment is a technically difficult process, and is key to producing fuel for the global Nuclear Power industry, which currently provides approximately 16% of the world’s electricity.

SILEX v Existing Technologies

SILEX CENTRIFUGE GAS DIFFUSION
 DEVELOPED 2000’s 1940’s 1940’s
 PROCESS Laser Excitation Mechanical (‘centrifugal force’) Mechanical (‘brute force’)
 ENRICHMENT EFFICIENCY 2 to 20(1) 1.3 1.004
 COST COMPARISON Potentially Attractive Capital Intensive Very expensive
 % OF EXISTING MARKET(2) 0% 54% 33%
 STATUS Under Development 3rd Generation Proven 2nd Generation Obsolescent 1st Generation
(1) This number is Classified – the range indicated is dictated by the technology Classification Guide
(2) Approximately 13% supplied via Russian HEU material

The largest market for nuclear fuel is the USA, which currently relies on over 100 nuclear power plants for more than 20% of its electricity requirements. Silex has traditionally viewed the US market as the most likely home for SILEX Uranium Enrichment technology, and this was confirmed with the signing of a Commercialisation and Licence Agreement with General Electric Company (GE) in May 2006. The Silex-GE Agreement is detailed below.

In May 2000, the US-Australian Agreement for Cooperation for the development of SILEX Technology was approved by the US Government. In June 2001, the SILEX Technology was officially Classified by the US and Australian Governments, bringing the project formally under the security and regulatory protocols of each country.

The Uranium application of SILEX is currently in the third and final stage of development – called the “Test Loop”. In accordance with the SILEX-GE Agreement, the Test Loop program is being fully funded by Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a subsidiary of GE (51%) formed in partnership with Hitach (25%) and Cameco (24%). The Test Loop, which is being built at GE’s nuclear (Fuel Fabrication) facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, will verify performance and reliability data for full scale (commercial-like) facilities. This key engineering demonstration program is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2009.

Following successfull completion of the Test Loop Program, GLE will decide whether to proceed with a commercial production facility, potentially starting construction of the initial “Lead Cascade” production facility after the receipt of the relevant licence from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), expected at the beginning of 2012. This plant which will have a significant production capacity, will also be built at the Wilmington site at GLE’s cost.

The GE – SILEX Agreement – Summary

  1. Exclusive Worldwide Commercialisation and License Agreement for the SILEX Uranium Enrichment Technology.
  2. Joint Technology Development Program – funded by GLE.
  3. Initial payment US$5M received 24 June, 2006 following preliminary US Government Approval.
  4. US$15M upon reciept of final US Government Approval (received in October 2006).
  5. US$15M upon successful completion of Test Loop Program and receipt of the License for the Lead Cascade Program.
  6. US$20M upon successful completion of Lead Cascade Program
  7. Perpetual Royalty:
    Base Royalty of 7% of revenues from use of SILEX Technology
    Additional Royalty of up to 5% (ie, maximum Royalty of 12%) based on total cost of deployment (lower cost = higher royalty).

The Nuclear Fuel Industry:
diagramA

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