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February 9th, 2009

Dow Corning makes multi-billion dollar solar investment

Published on February 9th, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org
Down Corning researchers work on next-generation solar technologies.

Down Corning researchers work on next-generation solar technologies.

Dow Corning Corp., known for its silicon-based technology, is betting it can be a major supplier to solar industry via a capital investment of several billion dollars. The investment will include construction of a new plant in Hemlock, Mich., where the firm will begin manufacturing high-purity monosilane, a critical specialty gas central to the production of thin-film solar cells and liquid crystal displays. The company’s commitment to becoming a major solar supplier also will include an investment of more than $2.2 billion in two of its joint ventures: Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. and Hemlock Semiconductor LLC. According to Stephanie Burns, Dow Corning’s chair, president and CEO, the firm will initially invest $1.2 billion to build a new HSC polysilicon-production facility in Clarksville, Tenn. It will spend another $1 billion to expand HSC’s existing polysilicon operations in Hemlock, Mich., near the site where Dow Corning will build its new monosilane factory. Burns explains that polysilicon is a “cornerstone material used in the fabrication of most solar cells.” She reports that HSC’s new Tennessee plant, coupled with the expansion of its Michigan facility, will give HSC an additional 34,000 metric tons of polysilicon capacity. Burns is pulling out all stops and says construction of Dow’s new monosilane plant, HSC’s Tennessee facility and HSC’s Michigan expansion will begin immediately. HSC’s Michigan plant has seen three major expansions in the past five years, according to company officials. Over this period, they say, HSC has invested “as much as $2.5 billion” in beefing up the operation. Burns says the recently announced expansion will bolster Michigan polysilicon capacity “by 13,000 metric tons, create 300 permanent new jobs and keep more than 800 construction workers busy during the construction.” She predicts the expansion won’t be fully completed until about 2011. Dow Corning’s involvement in monosilane plant and the two polisilicon plants confirms its commitment to developing “the two most common types of solar cells – crystalline-based and thin-film solar cells,” Burns says, noting that crystalline-based solar cells utilize “sliced polysilicon” as their primary semi-conducting material. “Thin-film solar cells are made by depositing a thin film of silicon, enabled by monosilane, onto a sheet of another material, such as glass,” she explains. According to Burns, Dow Corning and its HSC joint ventures want to create “new, high-paying jobs, clean-power technologies and a revitalized economy” built around the solar industry. “We’re committing our resources, know-how and technology, because we’re confident that solar technology represents a tremendous opportunity for both clean energy and economic growth,” she says.

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