The second chapter of my technical-trainee-adventure has just come to an end

Kontor 2
“Once upon a time, there was a newly graduated engineer in chemistry who started to work at the Elkem silicon melting plant at Thamshavn….”. This was the start of my Elkem trainee adventure. One and a half year later, I have also finished up the second chapter.

It is time to make a summary, not like an epilogue cause I have still one more trainee period to go, but I would like to give you some general input of the work being done at the R&D department in the Elkem Silicon Materials division located in Fossegrenda, and more details on my work.   

The blog post was written by Benedicte Eikeland Nilssen, second year trainee in Elkem. Just started on her third and last trainee period in the Bluestar Silicones division, in France.

Increase the understanding of how Elkem silicon perform in the various costumer processes
Welcome to the R&D department in the Elkem Silicon Materials division located at Fossegrenda, in Trondheim! Here you got a snapshot from a normal working day at the office, everyone being very focused. Only two missing from the picture, so the total number of people working in this department is six. It is quite a nice bouquet of men I have had the pleasure of working with. :) You have Harry-head-of-the-department, Henning-the-DC-man, Jan-Otto-knowing-his-HC-process-and-fluidization, Johan-a-guru-on-specialties (has also started to work on the HC process), Torbjørn-MCS-specialist-1, and Stian-MCS-specialist-2.


The office landscape in Fossegrenda. From left: Henning, Jan-Otto, Johan and Torbjørn, all very focused on their work.

You might now be thinking “…what does really DC, MCS and HC stands for?”. It is abbreviations for the name on some of the various processes where Elkem silicon material is used as a raw material. The case is that silicon produced at Elkem Thamshavn, Salten or Bremanger is not an end user product in the solid form as metallurgical grade silicon. It has to be further processed before reaching the end user, which might be you or me when we shampooing our hair, or calling someone using our mobile telephone.

There are various market segments for the Elkem Silicon Materials division; silicone, polysilicon, aluminum industry, ceramics, batteries. DC and HC stand for direct chlorination and hydrochlorination, respectively. These are two different processes where silicon is a reactant and trichlorosilane is a product, which is then converted into polysilicon. Compared to metallurgical grade silicon, polysilicon contains less impurities and is used for electrical and solar applications. MCS stands for methyl chlorosilanes, which are the products from the first process step in the silicones production. 

At Fossegrenda we aim at increase the understanding of how Elkem silicon performs in the various downstream processes. Performing lab scale experiments contribute to gain this understanding, the activities mainly consists of lab scale reactor tests performed at the lab you see below. Key words is solids, gas, high pressure, high temperature, a lot of valves, control systems, chemical analysis, and data logging. Data being logged during each experiments need to be further processed and compared with previous results. In combination with discussions, and coffee drinking, these results generates the deeper insight to the performance of Elkem silicon. These conclusions or indications are then shared with the various plants and the sales management, a communication that is very important in order to improve and become an even better silicon supplier.


Part of the lab area. In the end of the room you can see the fume hoods with the various lab scale reactors.


Processing of data, graphical presentation and comparison, discussions, in combination with coffee, are large parts of the work in Fossegrenda. 

In addition, there are other instruments available to obtain supplement the results from the reactors, or to perform smaller projects. These are: grinding, sieve, fluidization apparatus, furnace, instrument for carbon measurements, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy instrument, and water classification apparatus, and glove box. All pictured below with the exception of the glove box.


Upper left: grinding, sieving, mill, fluidization apparatus, and furnace.
Lower left: instrument for carbon analysis, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy instrument, and water classification apparatus. 

Topics for my trainee period
During my eight months stay at Fossegrenda, I was involved in various activities related to the MCS process. To be more precise, this process is usually named the direct process or Müller-Rochow process. As previous mentioned, it is the first step in the silicone production where solid silicon and gaseous methyl chloride reacts in the presents of catalyst at high relative temperature and pressure. There are several reactions taking place at the same time in the reactor producing various gaseous products, with the main product being dimethyldichloro silane. Check out the figure below. :) In order to make silicone these silanes are then separated by distillation, before hydrolysis, polymerization, chemically and physically processed, resulting in silicones for many many many different application areas. Baking molds for breads, breast implants, water repellents for textiles, price labels, to just mention a very few. 

To be a little more specific, by activities I mean lab scale reactor experiments and various projects. With the lab scale experiments I aimed at better understand the effect of silicon structure on the performance in the reactor, while in the projects I was more of a technical support on the MCS part, working closely with both Torbjørn and Stian. Included in my work were also reporting, meetings and literature studies.


Reaction between methyl chloride gas and silicon, with catalyst present, produce various methyl chlorosilanes.

It is a real adventure being trainee in Elkem. :) The adventure continues in la France where I will study the same MCS process, but this time in a much larger scale. Au revoir!