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Silicone Research at WACKER

Prof. Bernhard Rieger (center) with staff members in front of a high-temperature chromatograph at the WACKER Institute of Silicon Chemistry. The equipment is used for determining macromolecular structures and analyzing the structure-property relationships of polymer materials.

Research into silicones has a long tradition at WACKER: in 1947, Wacker Chemie became the first company in Europe to start conducting research on organosilicon plastics. Today, the WACKER SILICONES division has over 400 employees working on tomorrow’s products – which means that 10 percent of the division’s workforce is involved in R&D. Currently, over 100 research projects are in progress at WACKER SILICONES. The strong focus the division has traditionally placed on innovation is paying off – for customers and the WACKER Group: the new-product rate, i.e. sales of products less than five years old, is growing three times faster than business with our longstanding silicone grades.

Another success factor here is the increasing internationalization of R&D work. Products are increasingly being developed in regions where WACKER SILICONES’ markets are located. To meet this goal, the Group operates a global network of 22 state-of-the-art technical centers that focus on applications technology. The specialist staff at these centers are native speakers who work on customized solutions to meet local customer needs. They also take region-specific climate conditions, building standards and codes of practice into consideration.

For example, WACKER runs a Center of Electronics Excellence in Seoul, South Korea, that develops silicones for the local electronics and, in particular, LED sectors. In early 2016, WACKER expanded its technical center in Singapore to include a development and test laboratory for silicone elastomers. Opened in 2003, the technical center in Jandira, Brazil, focuses its expertise on silicone fluids and emulsions for cosmetics and hair-care products. The fact that technical centers and sales organizations usually share premises makes close collaboration possible between the sales and development teams – an ideal environment for customer support. What is more, the technical centers cooperate closely with WACKER ACADEMY, the Group’s own training facility.

The latest addition to the Group’s global R&D network is the new lab complex – 28,000 square meters in size – in Ann Arbor, close to the University of Michigan, one of the foremost research universities in the USA. Offering a unique blend of science, start-up and well-established companies, Ann Arbor is the perfect location for developing silicone-related innovations designed to expand WACKER’s presence in the world’s second largest chemicals market.

Founded by WACKER in 2006, the Institute of Silicon Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), one of Germany’s elite universities, likewise acts as an interface between academic and industrial research. The collaboration aims at combining the latest research findings with WACKER’s 70 years’ experience in the field of silicon chemistry. The partnership between science and industry has so far produced over 30 research projects, ten new patents and 35 scientific publications.

Research at the Institute of Silicon Chemistry is currently being conducted into the heterogeneous polymerization of olefins on silica gels, the synthesis of innovative, siloxane-based hybrid materials, and the development of energy materials for electromobility and photovoltaics.

The WACKER Silicone Award plays a role in knowledge and technology transfer in that, for almost 30 years, it has been presented by the Group in recognition of outstanding scientific achievements in the field of organosilicon chemistry. The prize stands alongside the Kipping Award as silicon chemistry’s most important international accolade.