Q: Dr Pfeiffer, what is your background at WACKER?
A: A chemist by profession, my career to date has been quite varied and included R & D, applications technology and scale up of a thermoplastic silicone elastomer line. Nine years ago, I had the chance to become responsible for the Li-ion activities at WACKER. It’s a very exciting time to be in this field, with so much exciting progress being made.
Q: What are your current responsibilities?
A: I don’t get much time for research myself these days, but I have a team of around 30 chemists, lab assistants and engineers, broadly structured into three groups. In Central R&D, based at Munich, the Materials Design group develops novel materials, and the Application Technology team is concerned with evaluation of those materials, and also for some customer and partner liaison. The Process Engineering team at Burghausen is in touch with our very large manufacturing plant, and is responsible for developing scalable and economic production processes. My experience in scale up processes is relevant in our relationship with Nexeon, as I understand some of the crucial issues such as the accuracy and reproducibility of the production processes and the process analytics.
Q: Do you see your work as having a wider impact on society?
A: Very much so. I believe that improvements in the performance of Li-ion batteries will have a significant role in reducing emissions and tackling climate change – by accelerating the adoption of EV mobility, but also by storing energy produced renewably. We are fortunate to be part of the German Lithium-ion Network, similar to the former National Platform on Electromobility or the Competence Network Lithium-ion Batteries (KLiB e.V.), and we benefit from access to all the major players in the supply chain such as the automotive OEMs.
Q: Have you visited Nexeon?
A: Yes, about eight times in fact. There is a long-term partnership between us, and at the personal level, a very good friendship.
Q: What is your opinion of the company?
A: Nexeon is an impressive company. It is capable of moving very fast in realisation of its ideas, and is also highly flexible and able to change direction when needed, perhaps in response to development results or to market requirements.
Its strategy of offering two types of materials for battery anodes makes sense: one type of material,
NSP-1, allows substitution of silicon oxide for carbon in the short term, and the other, NSP-2, solves the fundamental problems of dimensional stability of silicon, and is a great sustainable solution. It’s two strategies under one roof.
Q: What are the synergies of the relationship between Nexeon and WACKER?
A: The collaboration of our technology teams means that we can make faster progress by sharing our understanding of the market and the technology. At the technical equipment level, Nexeon has some unique equipment that is valuable in evaluating materials, and vice versa, at WACKER’s central R&D Department, we have some kit that helps to accelerate the scale up process. Each company works on slightly different areas and complementary material concepts.
Importantly, Nexeon has a long track record of building good relationships in Asia, giving it the required market access to OEMs in the region for the supply of Li-ion battery materials. The Japan office is a good asset in that respect.
Q: Are there other battery materials that should be considered as well as silicon?
A: There are other potential materials, but silicon has many advantages. It is abundant and there is an existing supply available. Unlike some of the more exotic materials that have been mooted, silicon is non-toxic and relatively affordable.
Q: How confident are you that superior battery performance can be achieved?
A: The industry has made considerable progress in the last five or ten years. It has been shown clearly that high energy density batteries incorporating silicon can be produced with good cycle stability. We are coming closer to solving the problems of increasing the amount of silicon that can be included. We now need to refine the scalability issues so that the materials can be produced at high commercial volumes, and at a competitive cost.