Stefan Haufe has a clear vision of the future: the plan is that in a few years, the rechargeable batteries he is working on will be powering electric cars and smaller electronic devices. “I want to see our material in batteries,” the researcher says. “Acquiring scientific knowledge is a worthy goal, but ultimately I’d like to hold a product in my hands.”
The 43-year-old scientist from Germany’s Westphalia region earned his doctorate in Munich and has now been working at the Consortium für elektrochemische Industrie for five years. Here at the Consortium – WACKER’s central R&D department – silicon-based lithium-ion batteries are deemed to be highly promising. These batteries could store 20 to 30 percent more energy than current models, significantly expanding the range of electric cars and increasing the battery life of consumer appliances such as laptops and cell phones.
WACKER is collaborating closely with cell manufacturers and the automotive industry, among other partners, as part of publicly sponsored projects such as the National Electric Mobility Platform. In addition to Haufe, some 30 WACKER employees are working to develop the energy storage systems of the future. Their aim is to improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries by replacing some of the graphite used for the battery anode with silicon. But Haufe and his colleagues still have some challenges to face before that vision becomes a reality. Up to now, for instance, rechargeable silicon batteries lose their storage capacity too quickly.
Haufe’s job is to build test batteries using the materials synthesized at the Consortium and subject them to in-depth testing. That work is done in the battery testing lab at the heart of his laboratory. “This is my team members’ favorite place to work in the summer,” says the freckle-faced Haufe. The test lab with its blinking diodes is cool. Three hundred and fifty batteries plus wiring are lined up on plug-in cards on a large shelf, where they are tested simultaneously – charging and discharging over and over again. The batteries should retain most of their capacity, even after hundreds of charge/discharge cycles.
For his six lab workers, Haufe’s enthusiasm for sustainable energy generation is infectious. “Building and testing batteries was a totally new challenge for our lab techs at first. But the high level of reproducibility they’ve achieved shows how adept they’ve become,” Haufe points out. “All of us on the team are pursuing this project with complete conviction.”
Many aspects of electromobility remain futuristic dreams. But for Haufe, the new technology is already a part of his everyday life. Even though electric vehicles available today do not impress him, he says, this father of three already uses his e-bike for his 15-kilometer commute to the Consortium from his home in the Munich suburbs.