High-Tech among Green Hills - Wacker Chemie AG

High-Tech among Green Hills

The new polysilicon plant in the US State of Tennessee officially came on stream in mid-April. It is the largest single investment ever in WACKER’s over 100 years of existence – and a commitment to the key role played by North America.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (9th from left) and the state’s two US Senators, Lamar Alexander (8th from left) and Bob Corker (12th from left), were among those taking part in the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. Standing to the right of Bill Haslam is Dr. Peter-Alexander Wacker (10th from left), Supervisory Board chairman of Wacker Chemie AG, and WACKER CEO Dr. Rudolf Staudigl (11th from left).

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.