Wacker sees growth in auto industry product for Chattanooga-area plant

Staff photo / A large truck transports a load of product to an onsite warehouse at the Wacker plant in Charleston, Tenn. Wacker expects more of the polysilicon it makes at the factory to go to the auto industry.
Staff photo / A large truck transports a load of product to an onsite warehouse at the Wacker plant in Charleston, Tenn. Wacker expects more of the polysilicon it makes at the factory to go to the auto industry.

Wacker has boosted quality efforts at its local plant that will enable it to grow sales of a product used in semiconductor chips for the auto sector.

The Charleston, Tennessee, plant has won a key certification from an auto industry group that positions it to sell more hyper-pure polysilicon, said Jim Tharp, senior director of operations for polysilicon at the factory.

"It will help our growth," he said by phone Thursday about the certification from the International Automotive Task Force, which oversees quality management in that industry.

(READ MORE: Wacker weighing expansion conditions)

Tharp said the Charleston plant already makes polysilicon used in the auto sector. But electric vehicles need more semiconductor chips than conventionally powered cars and trucks, the factory official said.

"It's ever growing with growth in the EV market," he said about the need for chips.

(READ MORE: Wacker filling semiconductor pipeline)

Wacker's huge chemical plant in Bradley County employs about 800 people. Tharp said while the company doesn't have any growth figures specifically tied to the auto industry, more polysilicon sales could be the result of the certification.

"There's no direct impact on employment," he said. But polysilicon sales could strengthen over time, Tharp said.

Wacker's Charleston facility and the company's factory in Burghausen, Germany, each received certification, he said.

Tobias Brandis, president of Wacker's polysilicon division, said there's demand for its materials, including in the auto industry.

"As a market and quality leader, we have been a longstanding supplier of ultra-pure polysilicon to all major wafer manufacturers in the semiconductor industry," he said in a statement.

Tharp said Wacker doesn't directly sell to semiconductor producers, but rather to an intermediate maker of wafers, which ultimately are used in a variety of goods requiring the electronic chips.

He said achieving certification took "quite a bit of internal teamwork. It was a big effort that took many months."

Wacker's sprawling production plant earlier pivoted to providing more polysilicon for semiconductor use than for solar panels, Tharp said.

"Our government has a strong desire to establish a semiconductor supply chain in the U.S. The foundational building block of that supply chain is polysilicon," he said in an earlier interview. "We're very important in making that happen."

When the $2.5 billion Bradley County factory started up seven years ago, solar panels were eyed as the end product for much of the hyper-pure polysilicon it produces. But with the pandemic and the supply chain chaos it brought, and the U.S. government's response to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry, more of Wacker's product now is directed in that market, he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

Upcoming Events