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Falls firm gets more hydropower to expand Plant makes parts for military body armor

A new allocation of Niagara hydropower will help Saint-Gobain Ceramics expand production of its silicon carbide products in Niagara Falls, including parts for body armor worn by U.S. troops.

The New York Power Authority voted on Tuesday to increase its allocation for Saint-Gobain's plant at 23 Acheson Drive. The plant will receive an additional 1,400 kilowatts of capacity, bringing its allocation of Niagara power to 5,150 kilowatts.

Saint-Gobain will add 18 jobs to its work force of 164 to handle the expansion over the next year, said Ed Asbach, manager of facilities and capital engineering. The company expects to invest $3 million in equipment. "The approval of this allocation is key to the cost effectiveness of our group within Saint-Gobain," Asbach said.

Power Authority electricity for industry costs about 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour, not including transmission charges, spokesman Michael Saltzman said, a fraction of utility rates.

Diamond-like in its strength and hardness, silicon carbide is used in body plates for protective vests. It is also used in seals for pumps as well as in electronics and chemical processes.

Saint-Gobain's protective ceramic plates are incorporated into finished body armor products by other companies, Asbach said.

Low-cost hydropower has been key to silicon carbide production ever since Edward Acheson located his Carborundum plant in Niagara Falls in the 1890s. Electric furnaces fire the silicon carbide material at temperatures above 1,000 degrees. The super-hard material's properties propelled the industrial revolution and put Acheson, an Edison protege, among the nation's most honored inventors.

France's Saint Gobain acquired parts of the former Carborundum Co. operations in Niagara County in 1995.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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