Green Technology in the green Countryside - Wacker Chemie AG

Green Technology in the green Countryside

The polysilicon production site in Charleston, Tennessee, is WACKER’s largest single investment ever, totaling some US$2.5 billion. WACKER began starting up individual plant sections in Charleston in December after a construction period of just under five years. So far, some 2,000 metric tons of polysilicon have been produced here. In the coming months, we will gradually ramp up production and expect to reach Charleston’s full capacity of over 20,000 metric tons per year in the third quarter of 2016. Read more in our interview with Dr. Konrad Bachhuber, Vice President Polysilicon and Site Manager Charleston.

Following Nünchritz and Burghausen, Charleston is WACKER’s third polysilicon production site. What was the reason for another polysilicon production site?

Dr. Konrad Bachhuber: The solar/photovoltaic sector is and will remain important, especially regarding the world’s energy supply and modern technologies such as semiconductors, which use polysilicon. Burghausen, Nünchritz and the new Charleston site offer WACKER three platforms for future growth. Depending on market development and overall economic factors – energy costs, labor costs, etc. – WACKER now has all of the flexibility it needs to support dynamic growth in the photovoltaic and semiconductor industries.

Even though WACKER currently has 25 production sites, Charleston is unique: it is the first site to be built in the countryside. Can you tell us why WACKER chose the state of Tennessee and this location in particular?

Many factors always have to be taken into account when selecting and planning a site, and these range from infrastructural considerations up to and including the local authorities. Some of the key factors in this case were infrastructure improvements, competitive and reliable electricity, an over-the-fence supply of chlorine, support from the local authorities, elected officials, Chamber of Commerce and other partners, a skilled labor pool available thanks to the establishment of the WACKER INSTITUTE, infrastructure grants, and financial considerations such as the natural hedge arising from the US dollar/euro exchange rate.

WACKER is well known for its high-quality products in general and for production of hyperpure polysilicon. How can you ensure this standard in Charleston?

The key equipment we have installed here in Charleston is all state of the art, making this site not only the most advanced polysilicon manufacturing facility within WACKER, but also probably in the world. In addition to that, we brought our best and most experienced experts to Charleston to ensure that this enormous greenfield project will be a success. Supported by highly qualified, motivated US colleagues and by tremendous company-wide teamwork, we have achieved our goal of producing WACKER polysilicon at the premium quality that our customers appreciate so much.

What about the economic importance for the region?

Such a significant project not only supports thousands of construction jobs for several years, but also creates 650 well-paid direct jobs and many more indirect jobs within the partner service providers that we will need for running and maintaining the site.

In addition to new jobs, WACKER also developed a new, customized training facility in partnership with Chattanooga State Community College. Can you tell our readers about the new institution?

The WACKER INSTITUTE was created in cooperation with Chattanooga State Community College. It is more or less a transplant of our successful, well-established Burghausen Vocational Training Center, where we train chemical operators and laboratory technicians. The construction of the WACKER INSTITUTE was launched back in 2011, in parallel with the start of the construction work. Today we can say that without the WACKER INSTITUTE, it would have been extremely difficult to find a sufficient number of qualified chemical operators to run our complex and highly sophisticated plants and processes. We are very happy with the quality of the graduates of the WACKER INSTITUTE.

What are WACKER’s plans and expectations for the Charleston site in general and for the region?

Charleston will give WACKER a long-term basis for a fully integrated silicon site in the US, the world’s second-largest chemical market. WACKER is currently looking into constructing a new production facility here for its HDK® pyrogenic silica.

Thank you very much for the interview.