As the solar industry continues to benefit from growing consumer interest and widespread acceptance, Tennessee is poised reap benefits as a key location in the solar manufacturing process. In December, Wacker Chemie AG announced it will invest $150 million in a new Tennessee production plant for its HDK brand of pyrogenic silica at its Charleston site in Southeast Tennessee. That’s on top of the more than $2 billion already invested in the company’s current location, which opened in the spring.
“The additional capacities strengthen our market position as a leading global producer of pyrogenic silica and help us to meet our customers’ growing demand,” Wacker CEO Dr. Rudolf Staudigl said. “The new plant is the next logical step toward expanding Charleston into a fully integrated silicon site in the world’s second largest chemical market.”
The company plans to hire 50 new employees for the operation, bringing total employment in Charleston to 700.
Located adjacent to and integrated with Wacker’s existing polysilicon plant, the new production plant will have an annual capacity of 13,000 metric tons.
Construction will begin in the second quarter of next year, with completion planned for the first half of 2019.
“Wacker announced its plans to join the Charleston business community less than eight years ago and in that short time, it has had a significant impact on the state,” said Randy Boyd, Tennessee’s Community Development Commissioner, in a press release. “The company’s $2.5 billion investment represents the largest single investment in Tennessee’s history, and we’re proud to see that Wacker’s continued confidence in the state’s highly-skilled workforce and dedication to innovation has resulted in expanding its Tennessee footprint.”
The facility is a key addition to the Charleston site’s supply chain. Wacker’s current Tennessee plant produces polysilicon for the manufacture of solar panels. The main byproduct of polysilicon manufacturing is tetrachlorosilane, which either has to be converted and fed back into the production loop or can be used to create added value by being further processed into HDK. Adding that process to the site allows Wacker to avoid disposing of waste products.
Wacker also produces HDK pyrogenic silica in Burghausen and Nünchritz, Germany and Zhangjiagang, China. The Munich-based chemical company is the world’s third-largest manufacturer in this sector.