Robert Bushman has pursued his recycling dream and struck it big. Beginning his recycling career in 1974 working in his father's scrap metal business, Bushman eventually opened his own recycling consulting service and recycling center.

Today, Bushman owns Silicon Recycling Service (SRS), Camarillo, Calif., a company he is expanding courtesy of a $1.6 million loan from the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), Sacramento, Calif.

As a recycling consultant, Bushman's clients included Camarillo, Calif.-based companies 3M, Sanyo Fisher, Unocal and Siemens Solar Industries. However, some of these clients were “growing” silicon in high-pressure chambers where spinning quartz crucibles forced silicon gas to form a solid, which is used in computer circuits. Companies throwing away silicon “ends” — which are approximately 20 percent of the solidified silicon that sticks to the quartz — asked Bushman to find a cheaper way to handle the waste.

Bushman began experimenting with the silicon and discovered that he could clean it enough to where the solar panel manufacturing industry could use it. Initially doubtful, buyers soon found that silicon could be made from recycled materials for $8.50 per kilogram to $11 per kilogram vs. $35 per kilogram to $50 per kilogram in virgin form.

Because an inferior product would make $12,000 worth of silicon ingots and furnace parts unusable, buyers were not willing to risk using the recycled material.

After four years of testing and product improvements, the doubters turned into buyers. Quickly, silicon recycling became the core part of Bushman's business.

SRS became a separate entity from the recycling center, which no longer is owned by Bushman. By 1995, SRS expanded its silicon and quartz recycling operation and attracted new clients, including Wacker, MEMS, Motorola, Intel and Advanced Silicon Materials, most of which are based in California's Silicon Valley.

Bushman also provided expanded services to loyal clients such as Siemens, which had helped SRS develop operations and testing, and then became a major recycled silicon buyer. SRS also recycles the separated quartz as road base through companies such as CalMat, Oxnard, Calif.

In 1998 and 1999, SRS received two major boosts. First, the company developed testing software called Polysort that tests the purity and electrical conductivity of recovered silicon. Polysort's testing methods meet all American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, and other companies now license it for in-house use. Second, in 1999, SRS invented a computerized inventory management system for recyclables to enable clients to trace multiple production lots or shipments.

SRS also began developing plans to become the only full-service poly-prep company serving the solar industry. Poly-prep prepares silicon for direct use, rather than only cleaning, testing and sorting it for further processing. However, this process required SRS to install an acid etch line, scrubber, clean room and defloridization unit.

To finance the expansion, Bushman worked with the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Zone (VCRMDZ), Ventura, Calif., which helped SRS qualify for the $1.6 million low-interest CIWMB loan. The loan's purpose was to increase silicon and quartz recycling from 600 tons per year to 1,500 tons per year. The funds would help SRS purchase $1.1 million in property to double the business' space to 21,000 square feet. And, $500,000 would be used for equipment, including an acid etch line.

To qualify for the loan, SRS had to show that it was diverting a waste product, as well as establish that it could repay the loan. The repayment had to be current and projected cash flow, with a 100 percent collateral backup.

Because silicon is a non-hazardous material in the form collected by Bushman, one of his clients had Material Safety Data Sheets, showing that before SRS's collection the silicon was disposed of in a Class III landfill. SRS' other customers also wrote letters describing similar circumstances. Next, a growth in business of more than 20 percent per year was projected, which was supported by SRS' customers' letters of intent to buy increased volumes of recycled material. This documentation was enough to qualify SRS for the loan.

By mid-July, the CIWMB awarded SRS the grant — the second largest loan in the eight-year history of the CIWMB's loan program, and one of 16 approved in the VCRMDZ.

Now, computer industry waste is being transformed into a valuable commodity for the solar industry. The loan also is funding an infrastructure for collection and processing plus a 21,000-square-foot building to house the recycling operation.

Bushman says SRS will bring 28 new jobs to the city and increase the amount of material it recycles from 600 tons a year to 1,500 tons a year.