January 02, 2020
Midwest Manufacturing in Clean Energy Spotlights
When gazing up at the giant blades of a wind turbine, most people are not thinking about where they were made. The clean energy supply chain, specifically the manufacturing, is often left out of the growing conversation around renewables.
By Nora Zacharski
The ELPC’s annual Clean Energy Supply Chain reports help highlight the numerous manufacturers and companies involved in clean energy throughout the Midwest, and showcase how widespread it is. Our latest two reports focus on Michigan and Wisconsin, so we wanted profile the great work that two leading clean energy manufacturers were doing in each state.
HellermannTyton manufactures different components for wire management systems, which ensure cables and wires stay organized and safe. The company provides critical products to support solar and wind energy in addition to electric vehicles and other industries. Among the electric vehicles they supply components for are electric school buses, which help reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality, and protect public health.
The company has been manufacturing heavy duty products that help secure, route, and protect different types of cables in Milwaukee for fifty years, but they began to focus on renewable energy about ten years ago after a few electrical contractors expressed interest. Wind and solar installations are often found in some of the harshest environments and are exposed to some of the harshest elements, so they require durable, cost-effective materials. In the early days of the industry, there was no blueprint for how to build a solar farm. So, HellermannTyton helped to establish standard products that make renewable installation quicker, safer and more durable.
Today, HellermannTyton is a global company with 39 international locations. Their North American manufacturing plant in Milwaukee has a significant footprint. Over 5 billion products are produced and supported here each year by a staff of over 1,400. Since 2012, the Milwaukee manufacturing facility has doubled in size to nearly 200,000 square feet, and the nearby headquarters has been completely renovated this year. Innovation has always been core to the company’s DNA, so they celebrate the growth of renewable energy as it helps communities and businesses.
Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC) began operations in 1961 to supply the electronics industry. Headquartered in Hemlock, MI, its corporate office and manufacturing facilities are staffed by about 1,500 employees and contractors.
Hemlock is one of the world’s largest producers of polysilicon, a fundamental material for computers, smart phones and solar panels. The company manufactures two types of polysilicon: semiconductor grade and solar grade. There are only five suppliers of semiconductor grade silicon in the world. Hemlock estimates that its polysilicon is used in one-third of all electronic device chips in the world. According to Phil Rausch, Business Development Manager, “The smart phone that you use most likely has Hemlock polysilicon in it.”
The company’s solar grade polysilicon is used to make mono- and multi-crystalline ingots and wafers for solar panels and arrays. The company produces enough polysilicon for about 5 GW of solar each year, roughly equal to 16 million solar panels. HSC prides itself on producing the polysilicon for the most efficient panels in the world that also have the lowest carbon footprint and lifecycle impact in the solar industry.
The company’s interest in solar technology was originally market driven. “We started by supplying the electronics industry…but we saw more and more demand for solar polysilicon starting in the early 2000s, and really have expanded our business substantially in Michigan, just to meet the worldwide demand,” Rausch said.
Moving forward, the company aims to continue producing high quality polysilicon that performs well and makes a tangible difference in fighting climate change. It also wants to bring more awareness to the carbon footprint in the solar supply chain.
“We’re really interested in helping consumers understand the embedded carbon content in the solar supply chain and driving towards responsible manufacturers,” said Brooke Beebe, VP of External Affairs. Hemlock embodies this effort in their manufacturing as well: it produces almost no waste, and it has a virtually closed loop system in which all raw materials are recycled.
HSC also hopes that its polysilicon makes more people consider solar panels. “The goal of this company is to drive out cost in the manufacturing process so that you can get solar installation and generation to take off worldwide,” Rausch said.
The clean energy supply chain, though often unseen, is a vital part of the renewable energy movement. Investing in clean energy manufacturing will bring more manufacturing jobs and economic growth to the Midwest. Find the most recently released reports as well as achieved ones here.