GT Solar Lands Big Contract with Dutch Solar Panel Maker

Like microchips, photovoltaic solar cells are made from one of the most common materials on earth: silicon. But it takes a lot of bulky and expensive equipment to transform raw polycrystalline silicon or “polysilicon” into the pure, flat sheets of single-crystal silicon that make up photovoltaic cells. Merrimack, NH, is home to GT Solar, one of the world’s leading makers of that equipment—and this week the company secured a $91 million contract with a Dutch photovoltaic manufacturer called The Silicon Mine BV.

The company is building the Netherlands’ first solar-grade silicon plant—actually two adjacent plants scheduled to open next year in Sittard/Geleen, about halfway between Antwerp and Cologne, Germany. GT Solar is supplying The Silicon Mine with two key kinds of equipment involved in the vapor deposition process used to create most solar cells. The machines—polysilicon reactors (like the one pictured) that break down the raw tricholorosaline form of polysilicon into a vapor, and hydrogenation units that convert silicon tetrachloride exhaust from the reactors back into trichlorosilane—allow the process to operate as a closed loop, materials-wise.

It’s the first European installation for GT Solar, which sells most of its equipment to Asian manufacturers, including South Korean firm DC Chemical Ltd., which placed a $200 million order in March.

Almost a year ago, GT Solar filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission announcing its intention to raise as much as $200 million in an initial public offering, but it hasn’t yet announced a date for the IPO.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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