Electric-vehicle batteries will be more efficient, cheaper and quicker to charge in future. And they will have different materials in them. Andreas Hintennach, a doctor of chemistry and medicine, is an expert in cell technology working on changing the mobile world at Daimler – a company he believes is leading the way when it comes to research.
Hello, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Andreas Hintennach, I'm 35 years old, and I studied chemistry and medicine in Zürich. I am currently working in research & technology for energy storage devices, i.e. batteries. Lithium-ion batteries, to be more precise, as already found in the smart electric drive or soon to be found in the EQC.
I joined Daimler in 2011 after my 'post-doc' phase. I arrived fresh from the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in the US and started my Daimler career in battery research – a unit that was still relatively small at the time because battery research was still a highly specialized niche topic back then. Battery research has grown enormously to the extent that it is now practically mainstream – which makes me very happy, of course!
You have two doctorates. What subjects are these in?
I wrote my doctorates in medicine and chemistry. The doctorate in medicine was about electrochemical micro-sensors or, more exactly, in vitro blood sugar diagnostics. Still a vision at the time, it is now in use. The second doctorate was in chemistry: I did research on lithium-ion batteries or, to be more precise, laser spectroscopy (a measuring technique used for analyzing the structure of the materials installed in batteries, for example).
Doesn't sound like the typical 'automotive background'
I have been fascinated by cars since my childhood. For me, cars represent the perfect application of chemistry and analytics, especially electric cars or cars with fuel cells. So a chemist's view is not so far away from the automobile. And, best of all, Daimler encourages this view and lets me give it expression. We have a very diverse technical culture that I believe is unique in the industry.
Why did you choose Daimler as your employer?
Even when I was at school, I could see how far ahead Daimler was in fuel-cell research. Particularly with the NECAR1 and its successors. Daimler really stood out here. The research culture and the staying power are remarkable. On a global scale in particular, Daimler is a leading competitor when it comes to research.
How has your work changed?
My view has become much wider: Previously I looked at the battery cells, now I view the whole car. It's always a question of creating the optimum overall package.
What #nextbigthing are you working on right now?
My team and I are focusing on the long-term improvement of the battery. We are looking to the future and working on answering the questions that will not even be asked for another 10-15 years. It's about functional features like range, efficiency and fast charging on the one hand, or price on the other hand. But the focal point of my research is sustainable battery improvement. The individual materials are at the heart of this. Concepts from physics and chemistry play the main roles here – ultimately it's about applying fundamental chemistry. Our team mainly comprises chemists and physicists but also includes a few engineers.
Please explain your job using a simple example? What is your work routine like?
Contrary to the typical image of a scientist, my daily routine involves a lot of communication and collaboration. You won't see me in the lab wearing a white coat. The lone scientist pondering things alone is pretty much a thing of the past. Today research is synonymous with international teamwork, and that's the great thing about my job.
My team and I are also the interface between Advance Development and Development. We are responsible for knowledge management, in other words sharing our knowledge and making it available in the company.
And I have to regularly refresh my specialist knowledge, of course, which is why I attend many congresses and conferences as well as reading lots of research literature.
Why are does IT and AI turning mobility upside down?
The key issue here is 'quantum computing': the quantum computer makes unimaginable calculations possible. In my opinion, this will fundamentally change logistics above all. My ideal scenario is this: optimized route suggestions for deliveries coupled with electrically powered and therefore ultra-silent trucks transporting their goods into inner cities during the night with the goals of greatly improving the traffic situation and reducing noise levels. This would also make it possible to optimize capacity utilization in local public transport and reduce congestion in inner cities. Together with autonomous driving, this offers huge potential for the mobility of the future and a new quality of life in cities.
Now a more personal question to finish: It's 10.30 on a Saturday morning. What are you generally doing at this time?
If I'm not sitting in a plane on a business trip, I'm probably playing tennis at that time. I'm a bit miffed because I suddenly became a 'Senior' after I turned 30, but it remains my favorite hobby.