Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Silicon Smelter In Rock Island

 History of the Plant and the Manufacturing Process

    The Wenatchee complex dates back to 1940 when it was started as a defense plant.  Operated by Ohio Ferro Alloys, it produced pig iron and ferrosilicon until the end of the war.  Later declared war surplus, the plant was purchased in 1948 by the
Keokuk Electro Metals Company.  At that time the intention was to produce pig iron
and ferrosilicon from iron ore rather than iron turnings.  The process proved to be
technologically possible but economically impractical.

    By 1951 Keokuk had rebuilt the operation's three original furnaces.  Five years
later it added a fourth.  As the demand for ferrosilicon on the West Coast began to
diminish in the early 1950's, the property turned to the production of silicon metal.  The
market was ripe because large aluminum producers were then moving their
operations into the area to take advantage of low cost hydroelectric power.

    In 1959 Keokuk merged in Vanadium Corporation of America.  Vanadium, in turn, merged with Foote Mineral on September 1, 1967.  The plant was subsequently purchased from Foote Mineral by The Hanna Mining Company, then reorganized as M.A. Hanna Company, on May 20, 1974.
 Hanna's purpose in buying the plant was to have a
backup source for ferrosilicon for its Riddle Nickel operation.  The closing of Hanna's Riddle nickel facility in late 1986 freed the company from its obligation to manufacture the lower margin ferrosilicon product and allowed it to focus exclusively of the more efficient production of silicon metal.

 Silicon Metaltech, Inc. (SMI), an investment group, acquired the Plant in the fourth quarter of 1988 producing only silicon.

SMI declared chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1990 as a result of a severe decline in the price of metals. The Company operated until May 1993 when it was sold to another investment company and renamed American Silicon Technologies (AST). AST made numerous improvements to the site. However, in 1999 the 10 aluminum smelters in the northwest were closed due to a shortage of power and political issues. Coincidentally, there was a decline in metal prices due in large part due to low cost materials imported from China and Russia.

These factors caused AST to stop production in November 1999, and then permanently closing in late 2000.

Since then, all of the equipment has been removed, with only the two large buildings remaining as evidence of what was once the first heavy industrial operation in Douglas County.

Over its history the plant employed 100 to 150 people in its 60 year history.


    The plant consists of four submerged arc furnace positions and the three operating units are rated at 12,000 KVA.  The furnaces have a total annual capacity of approximately 17,850 net tons in the main furnace building. Along with the furnaces, are the automated feed system and product casting facilities in the building.  In addition, a separate building houses the raw materials batching operation, and a third houses the product screening and storage area.  There are several small storage and auxiliary buildings, as well as a fume classifying and bagging facility.

There are two large dust collection devices for the furnaces, as well numerous small ones. The dust collector equipment is a prominent part of site profile as seen from the highway.

    The furnace building is 310' long x 75' high x 110' wide.  The equipment in the
furnace building includes:

    1.  Submerged arc smelting furnace (Number 1) with a 12,000  KVA transformer
and net annual capacity of 5,775 net tons of silicon metal.  The furnace is 23' in
diameter, 11'  deep, with a maximum crucible depth of 94 inches and uses 35 inch
diameter prebaked electrodes.

    2.  Identical submerged arc smelting furnaces (Numbers 2 and 3), each with a
12,000 KVA transformer and net annual capacity of 6,040 net tons of silicon metal.  The furnaces are 23'in diameter, 15.75' deep, with a maximum crucible depth of 106
inches and use 35 inch prebaked electrodes.  

    3.  Number four furnace position is available for extensive modernization.  It would be powered by a 12,000 KVA  transformer and will have a net capacity of 9,400
tons of 75% ferrosilicon per year.    It will also have the ability to produce 6600 net tons of silicon Metal.

    4.  The silicon fume bagging facility is located west of the  furnace building.  This
facility stores, classifies and  packages the silica fume which escapes from the
furnaces during the process of manufacturing silicon metal.  Fume disposal
requirements have been reduced significantly, as markets for the silica fume have now
been developed and have made fume a profit center.  Maximum production of silica
fume for sale is estimated at 8,000 tons per   year.  Shipments can be made in bags or
in bulk by rail  or truck.


The Company has a Power Sales Contract with the Public Utility District No. 1 of Douglas County, Washington through June 30, 2008. The rate is the residential rate
for the utility, and as such, currently pays 13.8 mills of which .8 mills of which are facilities
charges. The company, under certain conditions, has up to 55 MW of power at this rate
available, and an additional 20 MW at certain higher rates. The plant is the utility's single
largest customer.


    The process for producing silicon metal is relatively straight forward at first
examination. Ingredients for producing silicon metal(quartz, coke, coal, wood chips)
are delivered to the operations storage yard, or directly into a raw materials
preparation building.  When needed, they are fed into individual batch hoppers,
moved across scales and conveyed to the furnaces. The ingredients are heated to a
temperature as high as 6,000 F, during which the smelting reactions take place.
Molten material (at 3,000 F) from a tapped furnace flows into a ladle with a capacity
of three tons, refining takes place to remove impurities, and then is poured into
"casting dishes."  On cooling, the casts are weighed and then broken into pieces,
graded by size, and then stored and readied for shipment.  Crushing and screening
facilities are available to meet the majority of customer requirements .  Silicon metal
may be shipped bulk or in palletized wooded boxes.  


 The Wenatchee plant is served by the main line of the Great Northern, then Burlington Northern Railroad, then BNSF, which provides excellent rail service to all parts of the U.S. and
Canada.  The Company owns about one mile of trackage within the plant property
boundaries, as well as a 66 ton Whitcomb locomotive and a 30 ton Wellman
locomotive crane.  The quartzite, coal, coke and electrode supply is shipped by rail in
100 ton capacity cars. In a typical year the plant receives more than 800 rail cars of these materials.


The plant is located adjacent to Washington State Highway number28, a major highway within the state having convenient connections to the interstate highway system.  It is served with equipment and supplied by three major carriers with
terminals at Wenatchee and several small, more specialized, regular route common carriers serving all parts of Washington and Oregon.  Material for export is usually trucked to the ports of Seattle or Tacoma.  Wood chips are supplied by truck from local stands.

Information provided by
James E. Trunzo

President of the various companies from 1989 to 2000.