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 highly promising fields, such as energy storage, renewable energy generation, electromobility, modern construction, and biotechnology.
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:
- With BELSIL® eco, WACKER SILICONES has established a product line for silicone fluids that are produced using biomethanol obtained from renewable resources such as straw or grass clippings.
- 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.
- With its VINNECO® product line, WACKER POLYMERS developed binders based on renewable raw materials such as bioacetic acid during the period under review.
- Silicone resins are replacing organic binders in composites (materials made of silicone resins and natural fillers or high-strength fibers). We don’t use organic solvents in the manufacture of such resins.
A large part of our R&D costs was spent on the development of new products and production processes. WACKER scientists are currently working on some 270 projects, 14 percent of which are key strategic projects. WACKER operates in highly promising fields, ranging from energy recovery and storage, electronics, automotive engineering and construction through to household products, medicine, healthcare, cosmetics, food and biotechnology.
The aim of our New Solutions initiative is to develop technically and commercially superior solutions for new applications. Combining expertise from across the company, we apply it where needed. This work accounts for about 5 percent of our projects. In 2018, we started a building-insulation project under this initiative.
Some of our research projects are subsidized by government grants. During the reporting period, these subsidized projects were centered on ongoing development of lithium-ion batteries.
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 groupwide in Project System Innovation (PSI), a project management system in which we systematically evaluate customer benefit, sales potential, profitability and technology position.
WACKER had 728 research and development staff in 2018 (2017: 728), accounting for 5.0 percent of the Group workforce (2017: 5.3 percent). Of these, 575 were employed in R&D in Germany and 153 abroad.
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.
- The 2018 award for product innovation was conferred on two chemists from the Burghausen site who developed binders enabling the production of especially high-performing adhesives and sealants, wood varnishes and coating materials. Fields of application include wood-flooring adhesives, joint mortars, crack-filling compounds, paints, tile adhesives and wear-resistant coatings for concrete floors. The binders are marketed under the GENIOSIL® STP-E brand.
- In 2017, the Alexander Wacker Innovation Award focused on basic research and was presented to a team for their research into the behavior of silicones at high temperatures. Four specialists from the Group’s in-house research center, the “Consortium für elektrochemische Industrie,” developed high-temperature-resistant silicone fluids to create HELISOL®: a product that enables efficiency levels in solar thermal power plants that are impossible to achieve with conventional heat-transfer media.
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 2018, WACKER’s roughly 45 research projects saw us collaborating with 40 international research institutes on three continents (2017: some 26 research projects with more than 20 research institutes). Our collaborative efforts cover topics that include electricity storage, process simulation and process development.
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 BIOSOLUTIONS, WACKER SILICONES and WACKER POLYMERS 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
Our R&D work prioritizes the highly promising fields of energy, electronics, consumer care, biotechnology and construction applications. One area of special emphasis is energy storage and renewable-energy generation.
Energy from the Sun
- Polysilicon for photovoltaics
- Heat-transfer fluids for solar power plants
Energy from Water
- 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
One focus of our basic research is the chemistry of low-valence silicon for medium-to-long-term use in industrial applications (such as catalysis). In this area, we are working very closely with the Institute of Silicon Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich.
The goal of our research into lithium-ion batteries is to develop silicon-based high-capacitance anode materials in order to significantly increase the capacity and energy density of lithium-ion cells. Industrially fabricated test cells exhibit up to 30 percent higher capacity – depending on the cell format – than graphite-based reference cells. Relevant developmental products are currently being evaluated at leading cell manufacturers.
During the reporting period, another research focus was our work on ESETEC® 2.0, a microbial production system for the class of biopharmaceuticals known as antibody fragments. Additionally, WACKER is developing a new generation of ESETEC® strains to control protein production, folding and release more flexibly for new classes of pharmaceutical proteins. This new concept of ESETEC® 3.0 strains makes it possible to release a protein at just the right time in a process.
Business-Division Research Projects
WACKER SILICONES Invests in Energy Efficiency
At WACKER SILICONES, researchers have developed updates to multilayer systems of our ultra-precision silicone films. Using novel silicone electrode materials, they created multilayered laminates that, as actuators, can transform electrical signals into mechanical movement, for example.
During the period under review, one focus was on thermally conductive materials for optimum heat and weight management in batteries of electric vehicles. To increase electronic productivity even further, we are researching solvent-free, room-temperature-curing silicones for the optical bonding, sealing and embedding of electronic components.
Further, we have developed self-adhesive elastomers that bond effectively – even at low temperatures – to diverse substrates. These novel adhesives, which are based on our highly reactive silane-terminated polymers, exhibit excellent binding power in combination with silicone resins.
Composites – materials combining silicone resins and natural fillers or high-strength fibers – remain a focus of our research. These materials can be used, for example, as artificial stone or as a structural component in the construction, energy and automotive industries.
We are working on the controlled release of active substances from silicone-containing network structures of the kind used in wound-care and medical technology, for example. Our spherical silicone resin particles provide a new platform for versatile applications, one such example being as an antiblocking agent in polymer films.
WACKER POLYMERS: Focus on Low-Emission Products and Renewable Raw Materials
At WACKER POLYMERS, one research priority is functional polymer binders for use in construction and other sectors. We are continually improving our VOC-free products.
We are continuing to focus on renewable raw materials such as bioacetic acid and starch derivatives. In the reporting period, we launched functionalized polymer dispersions, dispersible polymer powders and polymer resins that are used to manufacture enhanced dispersion (latex) paints, adhesives and cementitious building materials.
WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS Is Working on Bioactives
At WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS, research is geared to strengthening the division’s biotech expertise. We are working on production methods and technologies to manufacture high-quality bioactives for use in the food industry and as nutritional supplements.
We are developing our ESETEC® production platform to enable its use in the manufacture of pharmaceutical proteins that are not easily accessible. In cyclodextrins, we are working on applications for the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and industrial sectors.
WACKER POLYSILICON: Solar-Cell Efficiencies Still Rising
In the field of solar modules, huge technological progress is being made at every step of the solar value chain. Cell efficiency is also rising continually. The highest cell efficiencies are attainable only with the kind of hyperpure polycrystalline silicon that WACKER POLYSILICON produces. Reference studies such as the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics (ITRPV) show efficiencies of almost 22 percent for monocrystalline solar cells produced with PERC (passivated emitter rear cell) technology. Efficiency is a measure of how much of the radiant energy absorbed by a solar cell is transformed into electricity. High-efficiency monocrystalline cells (such as heterojunction or interdigitated back contact solar cells) achieve efficiencies of 22–24 percent. High-performance segments like these require WACKER-quality polysilicon.