Landing production line for a DuPont film used in solar-power cells brings …

May 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News


Dan Gearino

The Columbus Dispatch

Sunday May 13, 2012 6:42 AM

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Tom Dodge | DISPATCH

Kenny Bowlby inspects a finished roll of Tedlar film, a DuPont product that’s part of most solar cells.

CIRCLEVILLE, OHIO — A decades-old factory can sum up its resurgence with one word: Tedlar.

That is the brand name of a film that lines the backs of solar-power cells. Starting this year,
the DuPont plant in Circleville became the company’s fourth in the world to make the product.

“Our stuff is on the back side,” said William Probert, operations manager for the Tedlar
manufacturing line. “We like to say we are the foundation of the solar cell.”

The addition of Tedlar was part of $175 million investment that led to the hiring of about 70
additional workers. More important for the city, it was growth for a plant that had been

DuPont, with 540 workers and about 200 full-time contractors, is the second-largest employer in
Pickaway County behind the local hospital. The sprawling complex covers 150 acres. It is part of a
global company that has $38 billion in annual sales.

Tedlar sticks to the back of a solar cell, blocking out dirt and moisture and helping reduce the
need for maintenance. DuPont developed the product decades ago and has been expanding its use in
recent years.

Circleville is part of a solar-power industry going through some growing pains. Solar
installations have risen during the past few years, but the pace has slowed as government subsidies
are being cut. First Solar Inc., a maker of solar cells with roots in Ohio, said last month that it
was cutting 2,000 jobs and shutting a plant in Germany because of falling demand.

“The solar industry is an industry predicated on deep subsidies,” said Ned Hill, an economist
and dean of the college of urban affairs at Cleveland State University. “I’m always skeptical in a
marketplace that is dominated by subsidies rather than markets.”

Solar-industry advocates say that the government aid will be less needed as solar energy becomes
less expensive. DuPont and other companies look ahead to “grid parity,” a time when the cost of
renewable energy falls enough to be competitive with electricity generated from coal or natural

Grid parity is “the holy grail,” said George DeRitter, operations business leader for DuPont’s
solar-power product lines.

Tedlar arrives at the factory as a powder. Machines add liquid and turn the powder into a solid
sheet. The sheet then gets stretched to its full width of about 4 meters, and then gets fed into a
300-foot-long oven.

At the end of the line, the material is spooled into giant rolls. This is like a super-size roll
of paper towels, with up to 12,000 meters of material in each cylinder.

In your hand, a piece of Tedlar feels like the glossy receipt tape that many retailers use. The
main difference is that it doesn’t easily rip the way paper does.

DuPont, based in Wilmington, Del., opened the Circleville plant in 1953. The initial product was
Mylar film used in packaging. About ten years later, the plant became one of several producing
Teflon, best known for its use as nonstick coating in pans, and Kapton, a durable plastic film used
in consumer electronics.

Employment peaked at about 1,400 in 1982. The decline after that was tied to falling demand for

The plant had high hopes for an expansion in 1995 when it added a line for an advanced kind of
film for videotape and audiotape. The new product arrived on the market right as consumers were
switching from tape to digital technologies such as CDs and DVDs.

“That was not good timing for the facility,” said Dave Pigion, the plant manager.

The work force gradually shrank to a low of about 440 during the recent recession.

That was when local plant managers saw the opportunity to attract the Tedlar line. DuPont was
looking at five possible sites. The most cost-effective option was in Europe, company officials
said. Circleville ranked third.

From there, the managers and local economic-development officials set about to improve
Circleville’s chances by arranging for about $6 million in state tax incentives. Later, the federal
stimulus law contributed another $50 million.

The process took years, with many small victories and defeats before DuPont announced its
decision in 2010.

“Over a two-year period, there were a lot of times I thought this wasn’t going to happen,” said
Nate Green, who was then head of Pickaway Progress Partnership, the county economic-development
group. He now works for JobsOhio, the state’s newly created jobs agency.

With this one expansion, the county’s largest private-sector employer was growing again.

“It’s a huge feather in the cap,” he said.

At the plant, Probert arrived to serve as project manager for the new line’s construction.

“When I started here, there were just two cars in the parking lot,” said the Tedlar
manufacturing-line chief. “Now, you can’t find a space.”

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