Research and Development
WACKER’s research and development pursues three goals:
- Firstly, we contribute to the market success of our customers by searching for solutions that meet their needs.
- Secondly, we optimize our processes in order to be the technology leader and to operate sustainably.
- We concentrate on creating innovative products and applications for new markets and on serving future trends, such as the increase in mobility, urbanization and digitalization, and growing prosperity.
Research along the Supply Chain
In our research and development projects, we examine the sustainability of our new products and processes. The following are some examples of our use of raw materials that benefit the environment:
- Novel silicone resins are replacing organic binders in composites, and we are avoiding organic solvents in the manufacture of such resins.
- In the VINNEX® product family, WACKER offers a binder system for bioplastics, allowing manufacturers to process polymers based on renewable resources just as they would standard thermoplastics. The system improves the physical properties of the bioplastics and makes them compatible with each other. The impact strength and melt strength of these polymer blends are high, and they are more flexible than conventional biopolymers. They can be processed, for instance, into items such as food packaging materials, disposable flatware, parts for electronic appliances and self-degradable gardening and agricultural containers.
Most of the €183.4 million (2015: €175.3 million) in R&D costs was spent on the development of new products and production processes. WACKER scientists worked on some 300 projects based on more than 30 technology platforms during the reporting period. WACKER operates in highly promising fields, ranging from energy recovery and storage, electronics, automotive engineering and construction to household, medical, health-care and cosmetics products to food and biotechnology.
Breakdown of R&D Expenditures
Publicly Funded Research Projects
Some of our research projects are subsidized by government grants:
- The OPERA (Organic Phosphor for Efficient Remote LED Applications) project was completed in 2016. The objective of OPERA, for which the EU provided €850,000 in funding, was to develop LED-based optical components that could enhance luminous efficacy by means of remote phosphor technology (separation of the LED chip from the phosphor layer that generates the white light) and serve as a substitute for daylight, among other applications. Between 2013 and 2016, six project partners from Germany, Finland and the Netherlands developed novel optical components for the scattering, reflection and transmission of light.
- The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) subsidizes research related to the energy transition. This includes the iC4 (Integrated Carbon Capture, Conversion and Cycling) project (German-language version only), which received €6.3 million in funding between 2012 and 2015. The project aimed to use surplus green electricity for water electrolysis, with the resulting hydrogen converted to methane gas using carbon dioxide and then stored in the gas grid. WACKER, Clariant, E.ON, Linde, MAN and Siemens were involved in the project, as were the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology and eight institutes at the Technical University of Munich. WACKER headed two of the four subprojects.
- The goal of the SafeBatt project was to develop battery components that would increase the safety and reliability of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) for electric vehicles. Between 2012 and 2015, 14 project partners from industry and the scientific community developed materials, models, test methods, sensors and evaluation electronics. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provided funding for SafeBatt in the amount of €19 million. WACKER’s work in this group focused on silicon-containing additives that would improve fire safety for lithium-ion batteries.
- The Alpha-Laion consortium project (German-language version only) developed high-energy traction batteries for electric vehicles between 2012 and 2015. Bosch headed the project, and the other partners were WACKER, BASF, SGL, BMW and Daimler. In this project, WACKER developed silicon-containing anode materials. Alpha-Laion was funded with €13 million by the then Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi).
- Silicone films can play a pivotal role in the conversion of wave power into electricity. Led by Robert Bosch GmbH, an industrial/R&D consortium developed the basic principles underlying wave farms as part of the EPoSil project (German-language version only), for which the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) had provided €2 million in funding up until January of 2015. As a member of the project, WACKER was responsible for developing and manufacturing ELASTOSIL® Film, which is a precision silicone film.
Our R&D Workforce
WACKER conducts R&D at two levels: centrally at our Corporate Research & Development department and locally within our business divisions. Corporate R&D coordinates activities on a company-wide basis and involves other departments, such as Corporate Engineering (during process development). We also use a management process to keep our R&D projects transparent throughout the Group. We manage our product and process innovations Group-wide in Project System Innovation (PSI), a project management system in which we systematically evaluate customer benefit, sales potential, profitability and technology position.
WACKER had 1,060 research and development staff in 2016 (2015: 1,043), which represents 6.2 percent (2015: 6.1 percent) of the Group’s workforce. We also present awards to honor the work of our researchers:
- The Alexander Wacker Innovation Award, a €10,000 prize bestowed annually since 2006, recognizes excellence in categories alternating between product innovation, process innovation and basic research. In 2016, WACKER honored a team of four researchers in the process innovation category for their development of our new 3D printing process for manufacturing printed silicone parts. Our 3D printing technology, launched under the ACEO® brand, uses the “drop-on-demand” method, in which the printer head deposits tiny silicone droplets on a substrate. Layer by layer, the droplets become the workpiece, which ultimately does not differ much from injection-molded parts. Customer sectors for 3D printing include medical technology, the automotive industry (e.g. for prototypes) and the aerospace industry.
- WACKER presented the 2015 Alexander Wacker Innovation Award in the product innovation category to a Burghausen-based researcher who had developed a process for producing ultrathin silicone films. As thin as 10 micrometers, these precision films with their dielectric (non-conducting) properties provide the basis for innovative products in such areas as electronics, robotics, sensors and medical technology.
- Siltronic AG confers its Inventor Award, also endowed with €10,000, on employees who have produced technological innovation. The 2016 prize went to a team of two Burghausen employees and one from the Freiberg site, who had developed a new pp epitaxial wafer that is harder and exhibits less tension within the crystal lattice. The electronic components manufactured from these wafers perform better as a result. Siltronic AG presented the 2015 Inventor Award to employees who had developed simulations resulting in higher yields and improved defect control during the silicon-crystal pulling process.
Collaboration with Customers and Research Institutes
Our business divisions conduct application-driven R&D, focusing on new processes for producing polycrystalline silicon and on product and process innovations in biotechnology and in silicone and polymer chemistry. We collaborate with customers, scientific institutions and universities to achieve successful research results more quickly and efficiently.
In 2016, WACKER worked together with more than 40 international research institutes on three continents on some 44 research projects (2015: 40 research projects). Our collaborative efforts cover topics that include electricity storage and process simulation and development. In 2015, we cooperated with universities in Braunschweig, Munich and Münster on electricity storage projects.
Our WACKER ACADEMY locations serve as a platform for sharing industry-specific knowledge between customers, distributors and WACKER experts. The focus here is on providing training tailored to specific industries, such as the cosmetics, construction and paints sectors, for applications in our WACKER POLYMERS and WACKER SILICONES business divisions. The training centers’ proximity to our development and test laboratories promotes the sharing of ideas and enables participants to conduct practical on-site tests. We ensure our seminars remain state of the art through our work with our own internal application technology and research facilities, as well as with universities and institutes.
Research for Sustainable Development
Energy from the Sun
- Polysilicon for photovoltaics
- Heat-transfer fluids for solar power plants
Energy from Wind and Water
- Wind power: additives for more robust turbine blades
- Electroactive polymers for wave power plants
Energy Storage and Conservation
- Active materials for lithium-ion batteries
- Thermal insulation materials for housing construction
Corporate R&D Research Projects
We have set a new research focus on the chemistry of low-valence silicon. The Institute of Silicon Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich is working on this topic, with the aim of implementing the findings in industrial applications such as catalysis in the medium to long term. Our research and development work on silicon-containing anode-active materials for lithium-ion batteries have advanced to a stage where we now fulfill the market requirements for capacity and stability of charge-discharge cycles in the next generation of batteries. We submit our materials to global technology leaders for testing.
In our silicone copolymer technology platform, we are focused on manufacturing processes and additives for plastics. Here we are improving the properties of casting resins and optimizing processes for the extrusion of plastics, employing renewable raw materials such as wood as fillers, in particular.
Our ESETEC® 2.0 process delivers an efficient method for producing high yields of antibody fragments for medical therapies. One big step achieved by our research on this system was the development of an element that permits stable fermentation without the usual addition of antibiotics.
WACKER SILICONES Innovations
During the reporting period, WACKER SILICONES research teams focused on new materials for electrical insulation and heat management to improve conductivity in electronics applications. The division is also working on electroactive silicone polymers (EAPs) for sensors and actuators.
Silicones featuring enhanced adhesive strength and gentle removal offer better wound care and targeted delivery of actives. We have developed skin-compatible SILPURAN® silicone gels for advanced wound dressings. One variation of these dressings contains plasma, a substance that kills microbes and multiresistant bacteria, and promotes healing.
WACKER SILICONES research during the reporting period also focused on our method for using silicones in 3D printing. They can be used to manufacture components for the automotive industry, for medical or optical applications and for household-care products.
We are also developing defoaming agents for pulp and paper manufacturing that remain effective longer at lower concentrations. Our research has discovered new uses for silicone resins as binders, for example in mineral wool or artificial stone, including for use outdoors.
WACKER POLYMERS: A Focus on Low-Emission Products
Research within WACKER POLYMERS focuses on polymers that enable the formulation of low-emission downstream products. We have developed or enhanced products that contain no alkylphenol-modified surfactants (APEOs), are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are largely free of formaldehyde. Examples include dispersible polymer powders using VAE (vinyl acetate-ethylene copolymers) for cement applications as well as products based on VAE dispersions, e.g. for coating carpets and for sealants.
New Technologies at WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS
WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS has successfully implemented its ESETEC® 2.0 process to manufacture an antibody fragment for MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca. The high productivity and simple purification processes offered by our technology help speed up the process of providing new medications to patients.
The division’s new CANDY2GUM® technology enables the addition of water-based, fat-containing and natural ingredients such as fruit juice, cocoa and coffee in a boiling process to produce chewy candy that turns into chewing gum during consumption. We have developed 3D printing for chewing gum, making customizable shapes possible.
WACKER POLYSILICON Invests in Energy Efficiency
WACKER POLYSILICON’s newly commissioned production site in the US state of Tennessee is equipped with an energy-efficient generation of deposition reactors delivering higher output. Technological progress in the development of solar modules is proceeding by leaps and bounds. Our customers have steadily reduced both cutting waste and wafer thicknesses.
This has been paralleled by an increase in cell efficiency. The highest cell efficiencies can be achieved only with hyperpure polycrystalline silicon of the kind produced by WACKER POLYSILICON. Cell efficiency is over 18 percent for multicrystalline standard cells and around 20 percent for monocrystalline cells. High-efficiency monocrystalline cells have efficiency levels ranging from over 20 to as much as 25 percent. At the same time, our customers are continuously enhancing the efficiency of their modules, with commercial solar modules performing at efficiencies as high as 22 percent.
The energy payback time – the service life of a photovoltaic module required to generate the energy expended for its manufacture – varies by geographical location from six months (in the Sahara) to 18 months (in northern Europe).