Munich-based Wacker Chemie AG has officially opened its new polysilicon production site in Charleston, Tenn., which represents the chemical company’s largest single investment to date, totaling about $2.5 billion.
According to Wacker CEO Rudolf Staudigl, growth opportunities are arising due to solar PV’s continued progress around the globe.
“Cost for electricity produced by photovoltaic systems has declined markedly in recent years,” says Staudig. “Consequently, this way of generating energy has become even more competitive, which is opening up new markets.” He claims silicon technology has “clearly beaten” other technologies in the photovoltaic sector.
Wacker says it began starting up individual plant sections at Charleston in December after a construction period of just under five years. So far, about 1,000 metric tons of polysilicon have been produced there. In the coming months, the company will gradually ramp up production and expects to reach the site’s full capacity of over 20,000 metric tons per year in the third quarter. Currently, the site has about 600 employees and, when fully operational, should have some 650.
Staudigl says the Charleston site will provide Wacker the basis for a fully integrated silicon site in the U.S., the world’s second-largest chemical market. Currently, the company is also looking into constructing a new production facility there for its HDK pyrogenic silica. As Wacker explains, ultrapure amorphous silicon dioxide powder is used as a filler in silicone elastomers and as a viscosity-adjusting agent in coatings, printing inks and adhesives. It also serves as a flow aid in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and food industries.