Back to the Beginning
British scientist Frederick S. Kipping synthesized the first silicone in 1898, without actually recognizing the potential of this novel substance. In 1940, German Richard Müller from Chemische Fabrik v. Heyden in Radebeul, Saxony, and US Eugene G. Rochow of General Electric independently discovered a groundbreaking process for the large-scale production of silanes – the most important precursors of silicones. This process is known as the Müller-Rochow synthesis and remains the basis of silicone production to this day, not just at WACKER. It involves the synthesis of methylchlorosilanes from silicon, hydrogen chloride and methanol. WACKER uses these silanes to make silicones, whereby the hydrogen chloride – a mere auxiliary in the production – is released again and returned to the process.
The very first commercial silicone product appeared in 1944: a paste from Dow Corning for protecting the electric ignition systems of aircraft engines.
In Burghausen, Dr. Nitzsche also took the Müller-Rochow synthesis as his starting point in 1947, but he had to research and develop subsequent areas of chemical and process-technology expertise himself – and with only very modest facilities available at first. Dr. Nitzsche’s notes on his early days read: “On August 5, I was shown my ‘laboratory’: a basement room labeled ‘Laboratory S’, its condition was far from attractive. I was also allocated a trainee laboratory technician – my first assistant!”
Before long, new colleagues joined Dr. Nitzsche in determining the chemical potential of the new substance class and developing techniques for the industrial-scale reproducibility of each new silicone grade. In 1949, Dr. Nitzsche and his team achieved their own silane synthesis and the first silane furnace began operation in one of the Burghausen buildings, the “Salettl,” supervised by engineer Sebastian Fellermeier. It ran day and night, using the company’s own raw materials.
Additive for PVC and Shellac
At first, research was concentrated on silicone fluids and resins. Silicone rubber compounds later joined the portfolio. Gel formation was a frequent problem at first, but, one by one, the difficulties were overcome. The research chemists tested the potential benefits of silicones by optimizing their own products and processes. For instance, by adding silicones, Shellac was made less sensitive to water, and PVC no longer adhered to rollers and spraying machines.
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