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  • Betting on solar

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2009
Seeing nothing but growth, Dow Corning charges ahead.

Anne L. Fischer, Senior Editor,

One company that believes the solar industry is poised for explosive growth is Dow Corning Corp. of Bay County, Mich. The company has its hand in the solar materials supply chain – from polysilicon to encapsulants, to adhesives, to the coatings and sealants used in solar cell manufacturing, module assembly and installation. It also has constructed a test-and-demonstration facility and is expanding the facilities of polysilicon manufacturer Hemlock Semiconductor of Clarksville, Tenn.

Another test-and-demonstration plant, the company’s second Solar Solutions Application Center, will be constructed in South Korea; the first opened last year in Freeland, Mich. Besides materials development and characterization laboratories, these types of plants offer customers a chance to see demonstrations of materials used in manufacturing solar panels on an industrial-scale pilot assembly line. Also planned are facilities for conducting environmental-aging and other types of tests.

Production of polysilicon ingots such as these is where the solar supply chain begins.

Hemlock Semiconductor has broken ground for its polysilicon manufacturing facility. The $1.2 billion venture is expected to be operational in 2012. Dow Corning has a majority ownership in Hemlock, a joint venture that also includes Shin-Etsu Handotai and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., both based in Tokyo.

In a recent interview with Gaetan Borgers, director of Dow Corning’s global solar industry, Borgers made it clear that solar is the company’s top priority.

“We believe this industry is going to grow,” he said, adding that the market has had its ups and downs, but “it has never been as good as it is today.” Although the company is sticking with the materials side of the industry, Borgers said it will step over to the equipment side “if new material requires new equipment,” and it will form a partnership with the equipment maker. The company also is interested in setting up a research facility or “center of expertise” at its headquarters.

Called the American Solar Power Innovation and Research Enterprise (ASPIRE), the facility would “regroup multiple players,” Borgers said. Institutes, equipment and materials providers, and module and cell makers would be brought together in the center “where they can communicate and develop solutions together.”

Dow Corning has submitted a draft proposal to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to discuss funding.

solar cell
A device for converting sunlight into electrical energy, consisting of a sandwich of P-type and N-type semiconducting wafers. A photon with sufficient energy striking the cell can dislodge an electron from an atom near the interface of the two crystal types. Electrons released in this way, collected at an electrode, can constitute an electrical current.
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