R&D expenditures in 2008 rose 7.0% to €163.2 million (2007: €152.5 million). The R&D quotient (research and development spending as a percentage of Group sales) is slightly lower than the prior-year figure due to 2008’s strong sales growth. This quotient is now 3.8% (2007: 4.0%). WACKER’s R&D goals are to offer customers even better products, develop novel solutions and set up new fields of work. Close customer collaborations are an integral part of R&D.
Close Collaboration with Customers on R&D Issues
WACKER’s innovative strength is reflected in the number of patents and patent applications on file. In 2008, we filed for patents for 119 inventions. There are some 3,500 patents in the WACKER portfolio.
At WACKER, R&D progresses along two paths – central and decentral. The Group’s individual business divisions mainly focus on semiconductor technology, silicone chemistry, polymer chemistry and biotechnology, as well as innovative processes for producing polycrystalline silicon. WACKER scientists have around 150 projects based on 40 technology platforms – frequently in collaboration with customers, universities and scientific bodies. R&D is supported by 17 technical centers worldwide that implement customers’ local needs via market-oriented development.
At the core of our R&D is the “Consortium für elektrochemische Industrie” (WACKER’s corporate research facility). It has over 200 employees currently conducting research and lab work in five departments: catalysis and processes, functional materials, polymers, organic synthesis, and biotechnology. The Consortium’s research work is wide-ranging. Research projects are identified groupwide via methodical observations and evaluations of technical and scientific developments. At the same time, we continually endeavor to optimize our production processes in terms of quality, environmental protection and costs.
2008 was another year in which our R&D activities continued to expand. WACKER operates in the innovative fields of photovoltaics, energy and white biotechnology. We strengthen our technology leadership as a producer of solar-grade polysilicon. We not only continually improve our silicon deposition process, but also our unique, closed production loop – which ranges from metallurgical silicon, hyperpure solar-grade and electronics-grade silicon, to silanes, silicones and pyrogenic silica.
In the semiconductor market, ICs are entering ever-smaller dimensions. It takes special skills to master the required geometries and ensure ideal crystal properties. A new chip generation in line with the 32 nanometer design rule (structural width) is about to start production, and processes for 22 nanometer design rules are being prepared.
Siltronic’s development work involves close collaboration with external research institutes. Development focuses on process simulations for a wide variety of production stages, on enhanced test methods, and on the manufacture of semiconductor materials with a hetero-epitaxial layer.
WACKER SILICONES launched several innovative elastomer products on the market, for example, UV-active silicone elastomers for encapsulating electronic components. Oven curing is no longer necessary, as our new products cure at room temperature. This saves energy and greatly reduces coating cycle times. The new elastomers’ flexibility fully meets production demands in the automotive, power-electronics, sensor-technology and photonics sectors, where large quantities of electronic components are needed.
Novel Elastomer Products
A new adhesive technique bonds silicones to other materials with particular ease. For the first time, no pressure is applied and no pretreatment is required: self-adhesive silicone rubber grades adhere to a wide range of substrates and can be used, for example, to coat plastics, metals, as well as textile or metal fabrics.
The WACKER portfolio includes new automotive-sector silicone elastomers. Oil-bleeding (i.e. self-lubricating) silicone rubber grades permit stable plug connectors that even withstand substantial mechanical stresses. Alternatively, oil-free, yet low-friction silicone elastomers are ideal for the automatic and cost-effective production of connector seals.
Our unique expertise – in not only silane, silicone and particle technology, but also polymer chemistry – enables us to produce copolymers from silicones. By combining the properties of different materials, we can synthesize specific, new properties. Take hybrid silicone polymers, for example, which combine flexible silicone molecules with organic polymer blocks. These hybrids make it possible to formulate hair sprays that give hairstyles a firm hold, yet confer good flexibility and excellent softness on the hair – properties that had previously been incompatible. Similar hybrids used in fabric softeners ensure that textiles are absorbent, but feel pleasant and soft.
Biotech and genetic engineering are two more innovative fields. They permit the synthesis of products that would be extremely difficult to achieve by other means – if at all. WACKER’s bacteria-based ESETEC® secretion system is an economical method of producing biologics. In collaboration with MorphoSys AG, the technique is also used to produce antibody fragments for diagnostic and therapeutic applications. MorphoSys and WACKER intensified their cooperation in 2008. They signed a new agreement that specified application fields and defined exact product quantities. To meet rising customer demand, Wacker Biotech is increasing the size, production capacity and process-development expertise of its existing facility in Jena.
Economical Method of Producing Biologics Developed
Recently, this secretion system also succeeded in producing Anticalins® – engineered proteins that act as antibodies. These proteins are being developed by Munich-based Pieris AG for use in cancer treatment. The manufacture of Pieris’ first clinical test candidate was the first successful industrial-scale use of our secretion system for such a drug.
Our white-biotech research focuses on the development of products based on renewable substances. In 2008, we succeeded in producing high yields of the amino acid cysteine via fermentation and in isolating it directly from the fermentation broth. For the first time, vegetarian-grade cysteine had been obtained by totally natural means. We plan to launch cysteine onto the aroma market during 2009. What’s more, we are trying to replace ever-scarcer petroleum and natural gas with renewable substances. For instance, our researchers are devising a way to obtain acetic acid and ethylene from biomass and bioethanol.
To promote in-house research, WACKER annually confers its Alexander Wacker Innovation Award. 2008’s award was for basic research and went to the developers of α-silane technology. With α-silanes, it is possible to make high-performance and low-environmental-impact construction products – for instance, isocyanate-free, α-silane-based installation foams to replace conventional polyurethane ones. Isocyanates may cause allergies and some are suspected of being carcinogenic. As a result, there is a new, stricter EU regulation governing the marketing and use of isocyanate-containing products.
Another type of silane – vinylsilane – improves the properties of traditional thermoplastics such as polyethylene. Being susceptible to temperature and the weather, thermoplastics are unsuitable for a wide range of pipeline and cable applications. As it is more resistant, silane-crosslinked polyethylene can open up these applications, where PVC had previously held sway.