Hidden inside the sleek outer shells of the advanced technologies that surround us today, are complex metals and chemicals you’ve likely never heard of. Bismuth, germanium and tellurium, for example, sound more suited to Superman comics than making your cellphone light up, or transforming the sun’s rays into clean energy.
But these celestial-sounding elements are vital precursors to a number of advanced electronic, pharmaceutical, and industrial applications. Montreal-based 5N Plus recognized the potential in this sector early on, and today they are a leading producer of specialty metals and chemicals worldwide.
“Unlike some traditional sectors where companies compete to produce slight variations of the same end-product, the possibilities within our sector are endless,” says Richard Perron, 5N’s Chief Financial Officer.
“Specialty metals and their derivatives are found everywhere, from satellites and infrared sensors, to pepto-bismol and animal fertilizer… which makes for quite a varied customer base.”
In the last five years 5N’s revenues have grown from $31 million to $459 million, or 1,381 per cent; enough for Deloitte to rank them as the 101st fastest growing company in North America, and the 5th fastest growing company in Canada in 2013.
5N Plus rose out of the larger ANRAD Corporation in 2000, after a group of employees decided to start their own company through a management buyout. It was a small operation in the beginning but the buyout team, which included Jacques L’Écuyer, now 5N’s President and CEO, understood the potential of the purity metals business.
Since 2000, 5N has grown mostly through acquisitions, increasing their production capacity and international footprint. Export Development Canada (EDC) played a role in that expansion by providing insurance for some of 5N’s foreign accounts, and also by supporting the construction of their first foreign plant, built in Germany.
Most recently in September 2014, EDC contributed $17.5 million to 5N’s new $125 million credit facility. The funds will be used to support the company’s continued international growth, and will also serve to strengthen the strategic partnership between EDC and 5N.
“One of our goals is to build partnerships with Canadian companies whenever possible,” says Carl Burlock, EDC, Senior Vice-President, Financing and Investments. “By doing so, we can support companies through their various phases of growth, and meet their shifting needs. 5N is a perfect example of how a company changes over time; they expand internationally, grow their client base, and diversify their product range. We want to be around when those different needs arise, so maintaining a relationship is very important for us.”
Moving forward, 5N has a number of initiatives to ensure their growth. They are the world’s leading supplier of cadmium telluride to the solar industry – a key component in solar cells. Considerable growth is expected in this clean technology sector, with worldwide solar module installations estimated to double by 2018. They also plan to bolster their recycling operations, which in the realm of specialty metals, means extracting specific metals from recycled products and returning them to their pure state for re-use.
5N is also the leading global producer of Bismuth, an eco-friendly replacement for lead. The demand for Bismuth is projected to rise in the coming years, especially in markets like Japan and Korea, where lead is being phased out of applications due to its high toxicity levels.
“It often surprises people when they learn about the versatility of metals,” says Perron. “And it’s exciting to think that we haven’t even discovered all the different ways they can be used yet. We still have plenty of space to grow, and we feel that EDC is a great partner to have because they understand our international vision, and are well equipped to support that vision.”