Silicon firm chooses Toledo


Organizers of a business to process silicon for use in solar-energy cells announced plans yesterday to begin initial production at the University of Toledo and begin developing a permanent home in Toledo by the end of next year.

The process that start-up Buckeye Silicon plans to use to manufacture polycrystalline silicon from waste left behind by the refining of phosphate fertilizer should dramatically enhance solar power's economics by slashing the price of a vital raw material for solar cells, said Mark Wu, the company's chairman and chief technical officer.

"When you drop the price of polysilicon, it will make the solar cell more competitive" as an energy source, Mr. Wu said after a news conference at the university's Advanced Renewable Energy Technology Center.

He and representatives of the city of Toledo, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and the university signed an agreement under which the company pledged to invest at least $50 million in Toledo by the end of next year in exchange for city tax abatements, bond-financing assistance from the port authority, and temporary quarters and collaborative research at the university.

"Alternative energy is taking a major step forward in northwest Ohio," Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said.

Mark Erickson, a senior vice president for parent company Sphere Renewable Energy Corp. of Las Vegas, and chief financial officer of the new venture, said Buckeye Silicon would start with a facility producing 1,500 metric tons of polycrystalline silicon annually.

It hopes the collaboration with UT will enhance its manufacturing process before the firm develops a full-scale facility producing 5,000 or more metric tons, Mr. Erickson said. Such a facility could employ as many as 100 people making salaries of $36,000 to $60,000 a year, he said.

Buckeye's organizers con-

sidered setting up shop in upstate New York, North Carolina, California, and Arizona, Mr. Erickson said, but chose Toledo because of UT's solar-power research, the availability of skilled labor, and oppressive taxes on small business in California, where Sphere has a research and development center.

Polycrystalline silicon is used in 90 percent of photovoltaic solar cell manufacturing, according to Buckeye. But traditional production of the material requires huge refining plants that consume hazardous material and produce hazardous waste, and can take up to four years to build.

Buckeye's process, the company leaders said, uses self-contained machinery to extract silicon from sodium fluorosilicate, a byproduct of phosphate refining. The system invented by Mr. Wu produces polycrystalline silicon at a quarter of the cost of traditional silicon refining, Mr. Erickson said.