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December 17, 2008

Dow Corning to Invest Billions in Solar Materials Manufacturing

Dow Corning Corporation announced on December 15 that it will invest several billion dollars in industrial facilities to produce monosilane and polysilicon, materials that are used in many of today's solar cells. Dow Corning already produces polysilicon at a Hemlock, Michigan, manufacturing facility run by its joint venture, Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation. A new investment of $2.2-$3 billion will fund the expansion of that facility and the construction of a new manufacturing plant in Clarksville, Tennessee, which will be run by a new joint venture, Hemlock Semiconductor LLC. Polysilicon is a key ingredient in crystalline silicon solar cells. In addition, Dow Corning will build a new manufacturing plant next to its Hemlock facility for the production of monosilane, which is used to manufacture both thin-film solar cells and liquid crystal displays. Construction on the plant expansion and the new manufacturing plants will begin immediately. See the press releases from Dow Corning and its Hemlock Semiconductor group.

Dow Corning's expansion comes as at least one company is predicting a drop in polysilicon prices, starting in 2009. A recent report from iSuppli Corporation notes that the demand for polysilicon has exceeded the supply for several years running, driving the spot price up from a low of $200 in 2007 to a high of $500 in 2008. With the supply catching up to the demand in 2009, the average spot market price for polysilicon is expected to drop, possibly as low as $200 per kilogram. In 2010, iSuppli expects the polysilicon supply to exceed the demand, causing spot prices to drop as low as $100 per kilogram. See the iSupply press release.

Meanwhile, the first solar cell factory in the Southeast opened on December 11 in Atlanta, Georgia. Suniva officially opened its manufacturing facility for crystalline silicon solar cells just one month after it started production at its first manufacturing line, which has the capacity to produce 32 megawatts of solar cells each year. A second, larger production line will increase the plant's annual capacity to 96 megawatts by mid-2009. The technology for the Suniva facility was developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology's University Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics, a DOE Center of Excellence since 1992. See the Suniva press releases.

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