Wacker shifts focus, prepares for more growth in Charleston, Tennessee

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / The crushing building at the Wacker polysilicon plant in Charleston, Tennessee is part of the $2.6 billion complex on 550 acres. The Wacker plant is the largest single manufacturing investment ever in Southeast Tennessee.

CHARLESTON, Tennessee - When Wacker Chemical Co. picked a riverfront site in East Tennessee to build its biggest manufacturing complex outside of Germany a decade ago, the German chemical manufacturer was banking on polysilicon sales to serve the growing global solar energy market.

But when a trade war with China led to tariffs and other trade barriers blocking Wacker from finding its place in the sun, the company shifted markets for its Tennessee production to the even faster-growing computer chip market.

After recovering from a couple of explosions in 2017 that idled plant operations here for nearly eight months, Wacker has deployed its sprawling $2.5 billion plant on the Hiwassee River to help meet the growing polysilicon demand in the semiconductor industry.

By converting silica metals from solids to gas and removing any impurities before taking the silica back to its natural solid state again, Wacker turns the silica rocks into hyper pure silica used in semiconductors and high-efficiency solar cells.