Annual Report 2021

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Creating tomorrow’s solutions

Research and Development

WACKER’s research and development (R&D) activities pursue three goals:

  • We contribute to our customers’ market success by searching for solutions that meet their needs.
  • We optimize our methods and processes in order to be a 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.

WACKER’s R&D rate – research and development spending as a percentage of Group sales – was 2.6 percent, which was less than the previous year (2020: 3.3 percent).

R&D Expenses






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Research and development expenses











In 2021, we filed 77 patent applications (2020: 91). As part of the Shape the Future program, we have been working with operations to slim down our patent portfolio, which now contains about 3,600 active patents worldwide, with about 1,200 patent applications currently pending. We license only a small amount of know-how from third parties. In our research partnerships with universities, our policy is to ensure that the results are made available to us free of charge or by transfer of rights of use.

We have invested in new laboratories and equipment, as well as in pilot facilities and pilot reactor technologies. We have continued to automate and digitalize the work processes at our international R&D competence centers. At the Nünchritz site, we built a pilot facility featuring a new silicone resin production technology.

Investments in R&D Facilities

€ million

Investments in R&D Facilities (bar chart)

The development of products and production methods accounted for a large share of R&D costs. WACKER is active in many highly promising fields, in particular energy, electronics, automotive, medicine, consumer care, biotechnology and construction applications. We are devoting particular attention to efficient energy utilization, energy storage and renewable energy generation.

Breakdown of R&D Expenditures


Breakdown of R&D Expenditures (pie chart)

The aim of our New Solutions initiative is to develop technically and commercially superior solutions for new applications. We combine our company-wide expertise and apply it across different divisions as needed.

Some of our research projects are subsidized by government grants. In the reporting period, these projects were focused on process-specific topics, electromobility, lightweight construction, CO2 recycling, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. The following are a few sample projects:

  • CAESAR is a research project funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in its 7th Energy Research Program. We are working with partners in this joint project to develop high-energy lithium-ion cells for mobile industrial applications. The research is based on high-capacity anode and cathode materials along the entire supply chain.
  • We are working on silicon dioxide materials to replace graphite in anodes of lithium-ion batteries – and thus increase anode capacity. To that end, we are involved in the LeMO2n project (Learning Multi-Scale Optimization for SiO2-Based Anode Materials). This project involves data-driven modeling and machine learning using artificial intelligence as well as high-throughput characterization as a method for combinatorial materials research. Funding is provided by the Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy under its joint research program for materials (“Materialien und Werkstoffe”).
  • In the BioBall SynBioTech project, we are developing processes to convert biogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) into methanol. Methanol can be converted into biomass through fermentation for use as animal feed or as a precursor for other chemicals. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as one of the Bioeconomy Innovation Spaces established under the ministry’s Bioeconomy 2030 National Research Strategy.
  • We are investigating the use of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) with partners in the MEvoDiP project (Human-Centered Creation and Evolution of Digital Twins in Process Engineering). The research is focused on the interaction with digital twins that replicate products or process steps, for example. It is funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy under its Information and Communications Technology research and development program.
  • We have submitted applications for European and German funding for the production of green hydrogen and renewable methanol at our Burghausen site. The RHYME (Renewable Hydrogen and Methanol) Bavaria project envisages WACKER building a 20-megawatt electrolysis plant to produce hydrogen from water using renewable electricity. The project also includes a synthesis plant for processing hydrogen into renewable methanol, using carbon dioxide from existing production processes. Hydrogen and methanol are both key starting materials for the chemical industry. At WACKER, methanol is used in silicone production, for example. Compared with existing production methods using fossil-based methanol, the new processes could significantly cut CO2 emissions. As part of the RHYME Bavaria project, we want to engage in climate-friendly technologies that will replace fossil raw materials in our processes and products. That can be achieved only with public-sector funding, however, as renewable raw materials are not yet able to compete on price with fossil products.
  • As an associate, unfunded partner in the research project titled Trans4In – Energy Transformation in ChemDelta Bavaria, we are collaborating with the Research Institute for Energy in Munich (FfE) and with other ChemDelta Bavaria companies and infrastructure operators to develop a road map to climate neutrality. This collaboration is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the TransHyDe lead project.

Research and Development at Two Levels

WACKER conducts R&D at two levels: centrally at our Corporate Research & Development department (Corporate R&D) and locally at our business divisions, where the focus is on specific applications. Corporate R&D coordinates activities on a company-wide basis and involves other departments. We use Project System Innovation (PSI) software to steer the Group’s product and process innovations by systematically evaluating customer benefit, sales potential, profitability, technology position and contribution to sustainability.

Strategic Collaboration with Customers and Research Institutes

We collaborate with customers, scientific institutes and universities to achieve research successes more quickly and efficiently. These partnerships cover topics such as electricity storage, construction applications, and process simulation and development.

Back in 2006, Wacker Chemie AG joined forces with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to establish the WACKER Institute of Silicon Chemistry, located on TUM’s Garching research campus near Munich, and has funded the institute ever since.

Research Work at WACKER

In 2021, the Group had 762 R&D staff (2020: 752), accounting for 5.3 percent of the workforce (2020: 5.3 percent). Of these, 594 were employed at R&D units in Germany and 168 abroad.

Alexander Wacker Innovation Award

The Alexander Wacker Innovation Award, a €10,000 prize conferred since 2006 for outstanding performance in product innovation, process innovation and basic research, is presented at the annual WACKER Innovation Days research symposium. The German-Chinese team honored with the 2021 award improved the process for vinyl acetate-ethylene (VAE) polymer dispersions in terms of production throughput and energy consumption. The researchers optimized heat dissipation and thus markedly improved the sustainability of the VAE production process.

Selected Corporate R&D Research Topics

Our work in Corporate R&D is focused on projects to advance sustainability, such as the circular economy and renewable resources. We are conducting research into the use of sustainable methods to continuously reduce the carbon footprint of our products and production methods.

One key research area centers on biotechnology, where we are increasingly automating and digitalizing our work. In the reporting period, we developed medium- and high-throughput systems for screening strain libraries. In fermentation, we collect extensive process data for computer-assisted simulation and optimization of production methods. In microbiology, we have prioritized two areas. One of these is to develop and improve technologies for the production of proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA) for the pharmaceutical sector. The other main research area involves work on production systems and technological synergies for new food ingredients.

Our basic research remains heavily focused on the chemistry of low-valence silicon and germanium for use in industrial applications (such as catalysis and synthesis). In this field, we are working closely with the WACKER Institute of Silicon Chemistry at the TUM.

Selected Divisional Research Projects

Our customers are increasingly focused on sustainability and substance degradability. Our researchers in Burghausen and Munich are working on silicone systems in combination with sustainable materials and degradable organic building blocks. At the Shanghai technical center, WACKER SILICONES is researching thermal interface filler materials for use especially in the automotive and electronics industries. One point of focus at the Burghausen technical center is on fiber composites for thermally stable refractory components. Made from carbon or glass fibers and silicone resins, these are used in lightweight construction. WACKER SILICONES has developed printable elastic electrode materials for sensor applications. At the Anyang technical center in South Korea, we are conducting research on resin-filled, optically clear silicone systems for optical bonding to further enhance the functionality of display screens. We are continuing our work on UV-activated silicones, which are more energy-efficient than thermal curing. At our research site in Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA), we are developing silicone systems for the targeted release of active ingredients in wound care.

We are using molecule simulations and big-data analyses to digitalize our research activities. Our Innovation Heroes initiative seeks to foster a culture of innovation at WACKER SILICONES. We acknowledge the best ideas and developments with awards and pursue them in our research activities. We employ innovation methods like design thinking in interdisciplinary High Innovation ImpacT (“HIT”) teams to identify customer needs and develop targeted solutions to meet them. In the reporting year, the HIT teams concentrated on hygiene and the pandemic.

Research at WACKER POLYMERS is centered on sustainable functional polymer binders for use in consumer goods and the construction industry. We are continuously improving products that are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and that enable the use of sustainable formulation components in a wide variety of materials. A particular focus is on renewable raw materials and functional polymer additives for manufacturing biodegradable materials. In the reporting period, we launched functionalized polymer dispersions, dispersible polymer powders and polymer resins, which our customers use to manufacture enhanced dispersion paints and high-performance composite materials. We introduced sustainable binders for adhesives and for cementitious building materials.

We are supporting the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in creating an innovation platform for sustainable construction. Called “ChangeLab! WACKER/KIT Innovation Platform for Pioneering Sustainable Construction,” this joint project is aimed both at KIT students and at architects, engineers and construction experts. We are forging ties between research work and the construction sector’s supply-chain stages by fostering the exchange of ideas and conceptual approaches in the fields of materials development and sustainable construction.

WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS is strengthening its biotech expertise for the biopharmaceuticals and food markets. During the reporting period, we continued to develop our ESETEC® protein production platform and optimized the supply of pharmaceutical proteins – which are difficult to produce – across all development stages. We are developing efficient production processes for plasmid DNA (pDNA). The team at our new site in San Diego, California (USA), is experienced in the manufacture of pDNA pursuant to the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) quality guidelines. At the Amsterdam site, we are able to produce mRNA-based actives for pharmaceutical customers in line with GMP. We have further optimized our LIBATEC® technology for the production of live bacteria for use as pharmaceutical active ingredients.

In the food segment, we are developing fermentation methods for the manufacture of high-quality bio-based ingredients for the food industry. In the market for cell culture meat (“clean meat”), we see ourselves as a supplier of high-quality medium components, and we are also working with partners on production technologies. We are developing applications for our versatile cyclodextrins in the food, agriculture and pharmaceutical industries.

In the reporting year, WACKER POLYSILICON launched its Quality LeaP (Quality Leadership in Polysilicon) project, seeking to reinforce its leadership in quality amid increasingly stringent customer requirements regarding purity. In the solar modules segment, huge technological progress is being made at every stage of the supply chain, and this trend is reflected in continually rising cell efficiencies. Maximum cell efficiencies are attainable only with hyperpure polycrystalline silicon of the grade produced by WACKER POLYSILICON. Reference studies such as the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics (ITRPV) show efficiencies that now exceed 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 23 to 25 percent. High-performance segments like these require WACKER-quality polysilicon. We are a member of the Ultra Low-Carbon Solar Alliance (ULCSA), which advocates for the use of photovoltaic components that reduce the carbon footprint of solar systems.

Biotech processes use living cells or enzymes to transform or produce substances. Depending on the application, a distinction is made between red, green and white biotechnology. Red biotechnology: medical and pharmaceutical applications. Green biotechnology: agricultural applications. White biotechnology: biotech-based products and industrial processes, e.g. in the chemical, textile and food industries.
Cyclodextrins belong to the family of cyclic oligosaccharides (i.e. ring-shaped sugar molecules). They are able to encapsulate foreign substances such as fragrances and to release active ingredients at a controlled rate. WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS produces and markets cyclodextrins.
Dispersible Polymer Powders
Created by drying dispersions in spray or disc dryers. VINNAPAS® polymer powders are recommended as binders in the construction industry, e.g. for tile adhesives, self-leveling compounds and repair mortars. They improve adhesion, cohesion, flexibility and flexural strength, as well as water-retention and processing properties.
Binary system in which one solid component is finely dispersed in another. VINNAPAS® dispersions are vinyl-acetate-based copolymers and terpolymers in liquid form. They are mainly used as binders in the construction industry, e.g. for grouts, plasters and primers.
Substance outputs, noise, vibrations, light, heat or radiation emitted into the environment by an industrial plant.
A colorless, slightly sweet-smelling gas that, under normal conditions, is lighter than air. It is needed as a chemical starting product for a great many synthetic materials, including polyethylene and polystyrene. It is used to make products for the household, agricultural, automotive and construction sectors, among others.
In biotechnology, fermentation means the conversion of biological materials by means of bacterial, fungal and cell cultures, or by the addition of enzymes. For example, products such as insulin, many different antibiotics and amino acids (e.g. cysteine) can be synthesized on an industrial scale in bioreactors using microorganisms.
A polymer is a large molecule made up of smaller molecular units (monomers). It contains between 10,000 and 100,000 monomers. Polymers can be long or ball-shaped.
Hyperpure polycrystalline silicon from WACKER POLYSILICON is used for manufacturing wafers for the electronics and solar industries. To produce it, metallurgical-grade silicon is converted into liquid trichlorosilane, highly distilled and deposited in hyperpure form at 1,000 degrees Celsius.
After oxygen, silicon is the most common element in the Earth’s crust. In nature, it occurs without exception in the form of compounds, chiefly silicon dioxide and silicates. Silicon is obtained through energy-intensive reaction of quartz sand with carbon and is the most important raw material in the electronics industry.
General term used to describe compounds of organic molecules and silicon. According to their areas of application, silicones can be classified as fluids, resins or rubber grades. Silicones are characterized by a myriad of outstanding properties. Typical areas of application include construction, the electrical and electronics industries, shipping and transportation, textiles and paper coatings.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gaseous and vaporous substances of organic origin that are present in the air. They include hydrocarbons, alcohols, aldehydes and organic acids. Solvents, liquid fuels and synthetic substances can be VOCs, as can organic compounds originating from biological processes. High VOC concentrations can be irritating to the eyes, nose and throat and may cause headaches, dizziness and tiredness.