Bachhuber was introduced by Cleveland Councilman Dale Hughes, owner of the Mountain View Inn where the corporate executive has resided for more than six months. The Wacker VP said he and his wife have now purchased a residence here, and his two college-age children will be arriving soon from Germany and England to spend the summer.
Hughes pointed out Bachhuber has 22 years of management experience and was manager of Wacker’s operation in China before coming to Bradley County. The city official also surprised the guest speaker with a birthday cake. Bachhuber said after the luncheon that he didn’t know how they found out it was his birthday, although Wacker communications manager Amanda Plecas had a sly smile.
Wacker’s site manager said, “I want to let you know what Wacker is doing here.” He quickly added, “You can do a lot with $1.8 billion,” the anticipated cost of this major project. “This is a big vision Wacker has here, and we believe mankind needs this kind of technology and we need the raw material for polysilicon. Our project here has huge potential.”
The company’s top executive in Bradley County says he has always been involved with managing plants (for Wacker). He added that he gets them up and running and also builds new plants.
He emphasized Wacker currently has 20 percent of the world’s polysilicon market, and that share is growing. “We are active all over the world,” Bachhuber said. “We are one of the world’s largest producers.”
The site manager said the company’s plant in Burghausen, Germany, is its largest, adding that the north Bradley County plant will be of comparable size. He also displayed a video of the German plant, which shows how it dominates the nearby residential community.
Bachhuber explained the process which leads to polysilicon. He said it begins with quartz, adding that there is plenty of quartz in the world and we’ll never run out. The plant will distill the ore from 98 percent to 99.99 percent pure. The plant manager said there are several steps in this distillation process.
“Our customers will then take our product, crystalize it and cut it into bricks,” Bachhuber explained. He said the bricks are then cut into wafers which are used to make cells which can produce electricity. Much of the final steps of the process are completed in China, although it can be done elsewhere.
The Wacker official said Charleston will be the company’s third production site. “We can expand all three of these sites,” he said of future growth needs. “There is a huge potential right now in this business and the market is growing dramatically in the U.S., in China and around the world.”
One of the reasons for coming to Bradley County was the availability of energy from the Tennessee Valley Authority. “TVA has been doing a great job providing us electricity,” Bachhuber said. He pointed out the need of 24-hour electricity for the ore cooking process. “We can’t shut down the process at night,” he said in answering an inquiry as to why the company doesn’t use solar power.
He said there will be more than 30 buildings at the plant site. There are 700 to 800 workers at the site during preliminary stages of construction. The plant manager said there are 200 employees on board, there will be 400 next year and 650 when production starts up.
Bachhuber informed the crowd the first big tanks arrived on site last week, and he apologized for any impact the construction project will have on traffic in the Charleston and north Bradley County area. Initial production from the plant is anticipated at the end of 2013.
The site manager said there are many advantages of locating in Southeast Tennessee, “We hope to impact the whole region,” he said. “What we were looking for (in locating here) was energy (TVA), a labor pool and support.”
Bachhuber displayed a series of videos giving Kiwanis Club members an update on progress of plant construction. The display began with site preparation and continued to the addition of buildings, the huge tanks and columns.
In a question-and-answer session, Bachhuber politely dodged a question about the possibility of tours at the plant site. “We’re currently trying to focus on the project and safety issues,” he said.
He said there are currently 70 or so new employees in Germany for training. “They are mixing well with the local residents,” he said. “One has even become quarterback on the community’s football team.”
Asked about the company’s involvement in the community, Bachhuber said Wacker is developing a local program. “That role will grow,” he said of future potential.