Solar panels are the wave of the future and Air Products and Chemicals is expanding to meet the demand.

At Tuesday's Rush Township zoning board hearing, Air Products was given a green light to expand a building to accommodate a gas used in the manufacture of solar panels, among other uses.

Specifically, zoners agreed to allow a special exemption for a 40-feet by 60-feet building which will be modified for the transfer and storage of silane gas.

Chairman Wayne Postupack called the meeting to order and called on Zoning Officer William N. McMullen to read into the official record the details of the application by Air Products and Chemicals, an industry manufacturing industrial gases at 357 Marian Avenue. Air Products occupies a 97-acre parcel in a G-1 industrial area.

Air Products had requested the special exception pursuant to Section 953 of the Rush Township zoning ordinance, claiming that the exception should be allowed because the activity represents "a continuation of a present use."

In addition, a letter received from Rush Township planners indicated that the township Planning Commission had no issue with the site plan sketch after a formal review earlier this year.

Representing Air Products, George Stianche said there has been "strong growth for photovoltaic solar panels and this gas is used in the manufacture of the panels."

Much discussion centered on the nature of the gas, which reportedly burns easily.

"It'll burn when exposed to air. It doesn't need an ignition factor," said Stianche.

Stianche said sand and water vapor are produced when silane burns, adding that it's similar to some other gases handled by Air Products "and is contained."

Member Tom Klein questioned safety factors.

"What are the hazards," Klein asked. Stianche responded that "there will be numerous control safeguards and fire protection contained in the building."

In response to a question, Stianche said railcars would not be used to transport the gas. Instead, the gas would be trucked in and transferred to smaller containers stored in the facility.

Resident Neal Flexer also questioned the safety of the process, to which Stianche responded: "In the event of an accidental release, it'll form sand in the form of a fine dust."

Discussion also included the proximity of the nearest houses, which are said to be at least 600 to 700 feet away, and a brief mention of the potential for dust inhalation should a release take place.

Resident Arthur Frey questioned why Air Products plans to break down the gas into smaller containers. Stianche answered that the gas would be transferred into 60-liter containers which customers require for certain industrial applications.

Board member Cathey Schimpf questioned the proposed truck route.

Stianche said all trucks would use Fairview Street, the street where Skipper Dippers is situated, and would not pass Marian High School.

"It's a process similar to other processes on site. It's not a new gas to Air Products," Stianche indicated, noting that the firm has been inexistence for 39 years and is a good neighbor.

Stianche said the addition of a silane gas component to the business would not add new jobs but would replace some activity that will be leaving, and in that way, would help sustain current employment levels at the firm.

At the conclusion of discussion, Schimpf moved to grant the exception, seconded by Klein.

There is a 30-day appeal window, meaning that an appeal to the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas is still allowed under current protocol.

Also on hand to respond to questions was Matthew Baumgardt of Air Products.