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Associated Press

BUTTE - A company based in Norway is buying a silicon plant here from its owners in Japan, officials announced on Thursday.

Komatsu, owner of Advanced Silicon Materials Inc., said it was selling most of its interest in the polysilicon and silane gas manufacturing plant southwest of here to Renewable Energy Corp. of Oslo.

Komatsu has signed a letter of intent to sell 75 percent of its interest in ASiMI, said Mike Kerschen, ASiMI's president and chief executive.

The two international companies already are partners in a joint venture in Moses Lake, Wash., to produce polysilicon for the solar cell industry.

A purchase price was not disclosed.

The sale is to close in late spring and hinges on completion of negotiations that began in the fall, as well as regulatory approval.

ASiMI has more than 400 employees in the Butte area.

No changes are anticipated in ASiMI's strong silane gas business, but the company's polycrystalline silicon business will gradually shift from its electronic applications to making silicon for photovoltaic, or solar use, Kerschen said. The same equipment and skills are used to produce photovoltaic silicon, which is a grade of silicon that is easier to make and more forgiving since purity levels are lower, he said.

Whatever changes may accompany the shift in ownership are unclear, but Kerschen said, "They (REC) didn't buy it (ASiMI) to shut it down."

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ASiMI's employees were told about the sale Thursday.

In a statement, REC said the purchase provides an opportunity to strengthen its position in the rapidly growing solar photovoltaic industry. REC expects to become the world's largest producer of photovoltaic silicon, the company said.

REC was established in 2000 in Oslo. It is a Norwegian-based holding company active in the entire chain of solar energy and manufacture of solar-grade silicon. It has about 650 employees and has operations in Norway, Sweden and the U.S., with sales of about $230 million.

Advanced Silicon Materials was established in 1990 in Butte. It is wholly owned by Komatsu of Japan and has annual sales of $130 million.

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