Hoku Corp just filed for bankruptcy in Pocatello federal court according to reports in the Idaho State Journal.
Hoku started out as a fuel cell membrane and materials company, went public in 2005 on little revenue, and then pivoted to becoming a solar polysilicon manufacturer. The company also tried its hand at solar installation in its home state of Hawaii with $1.6 million in 2013 revenue, according to reports in Hawaii's Star Advertiser.
The firm's stock was delisted from the Nasdaq last year. The company is now $1 billion in debt to 30 creditors including Tianwei and the Idaho plant's main construction contractor. Hoku is a subsidiary of Tianwei New Energy Holdings, which is an affiliate of China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC). CSGC is a mammoth firm with 191,000 employees. Tianwei manufactures polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules.
In 2012, in a case of questionable timing, Hoku was looking to open up a long-threatened $700 million polysilicon plant in Pocatello, Idaho -- a factory that sought to supply a transitioning and hobbled market. Hoku's CFO and CEO resigned around that time while the company was having difficulty paying its Idaho electric bill. Hoku had received $280 million in prepayments from PV panel manufacturers such as Hanwha SolarOne, Tianwei New Energy, Jinko Solar, and and a small prepayment from Suntech for polysilicon to be delivered between 2012 and 2016. The firm has been threatening to build the Idaho factory since 2008 -- when polysilicon was more expensive than today.
The firm never really had a technological differentiation in silicon manufacturing or in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Nor did it seem to have a strategic business plan, other than to go public and pay its executives.
Perhaps its Chinese Fortune 1000 conglomerate parent will engineer a financial rescue of the firm.