A Chinese company is opening a research and development center in Richland to tap into the technical expertise available in the area.
GCL Solar recently leased about 10,000 square feet in a building that houses Tetra Tech on Columbia Point Drive.
GCL Solar is a subsidiary of GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., which is one of the world's leading manufacturers of polysilicon for the solar industry.
The space is being remodeled and should be ready in the next few months, said Russ Hamilton, vice president of technology and chief technology officer for GCL-Poly, who until recently worked for REC Silicon in Moses Lake, another leading global player in the silicon industry.
Hamilton said he plans to hire 30 to 40 engineers along with support staff to run the Richland center. At least half will be hired before the year ends, he said.
The Richland facility will help to develop better, cost-effective methods for silica processing and production, Hamilton said. Silicon is used to manufacture semi-conductors and solar wafers, which are used to make solar cells and photovoltaic solar panels.
After the company develops the right technology, it'll focus on producing solar wafers in China, Hamilton said.
Researchers in Richland will work closely with other company researchers in China to help identify the technologies the company wants to get involved in, he said, adding that he expects to farm out some lab projects like simulation of chemical processes to local scientists.
"We're excited to have them," said Richland Mayor John Fox. It helps diversify the technology mix in the Tri-Cities, he said.
The new center also will help highlight the area and what it has to offer internationally, Fox said.
Richland may provide some infrastructure help to the company, Hamilton said. But that wasn't the reason the company is coming to the city, he clarified. The company explored various options within the Tri-Cities before finding what it thought was the best fit for its needs, Hamilton said. Being located in an area that offers a high quality of life will help the company recruit the best talents, he said. "We can't wait to get started."