As you drive along the winding country roads of eastern Tennessee, past typical American farms with their large round silos, you hardly expect to encounter such a large-scale industrial site around the next bend. Where the Hiwassee River snakes its way through the green, hilly countryside and the tiny town of Charleston (official population: 651) is nestled, Wacker Chemie AG’s newest plant suddenly comes into view.
A row of distillation columns, some of them dozens of meters high, sparkles in the sunshine, flanked on one side by a seven-story building for the manufacture of trichlorosilane and, on the other, by a deposition hall. These distinctive structures are only three out of more than 30 buildings on the 550-acre lot; since ground was broken in early 2011, WACKER has transformed the site from simple farmland into the world’s most cutting-edge plant for the production of hyperpure polysilicon.
Known inside the company as Poly 11, the plant is a major project. At the peak of construction, over 3,500 workers from more than 140 contractors were on the building site. A total of 237,500 flatbed trailers moved 2.9 million cubic meters of earth. Some 111,000 cubic meters of concrete was poured and over 40,000 metric tons of steel used. WACKER and its partners installed around 100,000 instruments and valves.
“The site’s daily progress was extraordinary, and it was very exciting to witness this impressive plant ramp-up firsthand,” said site manager Dr. Konrad Bachhuber, who has supervised the project since December 2011. A chemist by training, he has worked for WACKER for 26 years. During that time, he has handled several major projects in Germany and China, but Charleston was bigger than anything previously experienced. “Commissioning such a technically complex greenfield plant is a formidable task,” stressed Dr. Rudolf Staudigl, CEO of Wacker Chemie AG. “So far, our American employees and their German colleagues have joined forces to meet this challenge with flying colors.”
At around US$2.5 billion, Charleston is not just WACKER’s single biggest investment to date. In more ways than one, WACKER has entered uncharted territory with this project. It is not only the first time that the company has built an entirely new polysilicon plant on a greenfield site instead of expanding infrastructure at an existing site.