Doctoral student in battery development Interview with Martin Frey

What job entry possibilities does Daimler offer for chemists? And what makes the chemist's job particularly interesting in the automotive industry? We spoke about these and other questions with the doctoral student Martin Frey, who is now working on his PhD in battery principles research at Daimler after completing his chemistry studies.

Hello Mr. Frey, please introduce yourself briefly to the readers.

My name is Martin and I am 27 years old. I have a bachelor's degree in chemistry and master's degree with a specialization in polymer and electrochemistry from the University of Stuttgart. Currently, I am working as a doctoral student in the principles research on batteries at the Ulm and Sindelfingen locations.

Why did you as chemist decide to get a job at Daimler?

Daimler was present in my life from my early childhood because I grew up in the "Gottlieb-Daimler City" of Schorndorf and was nurtured in the passion for the automobile and the Mercedes-Benz brand. For me, it was already clear very early that I would like to help design the mobility of tomorrow at Daimler. When you really want to move something, you need a strong partner. For me this is definitely Daimler!
How does a chemist get into a company that is dominated by engineers? Very simply: By making oneself interesting! And this is exactly what I already actively tried to do during my study of chemistry – through courses and special lectures on topics that are relevant for a company like Daimler. After that, the icing on the cake was my master's thesis, which I worked on at the Institute for Polymer Chemistry at the University of Stuttgart. Here, I was able to bundle my skills and to develop an innovative cathode concept for lithium-sulfur batteries. This also did not remain unnoticed: That is how it came about that I met my current colleague and mentor for my doctoral thesis, who immediately saw the potential of my work and hired me for the doctoral thesis. I could then transition seamlessly from my studies to my doctoral thesis at Daimler just as I had planned. I would say: “Mission accomplished“.

What is your previous experience at Daimler – starting from the first day in the company until today?

I started out in the team for electrochemical layers. The way was clear for me from day one: to expound on the topic of my master's in my doctoral thesis and optimize it for use in the vehicle. This is how it came about that I changed over thematically into the Principles HV Battery team. Because this is exactly my task as a chemist: to examine and understand the principles of battery chemistry of future battery generations and - first and foremost - to enable using them for our future products!

What is your interest as a chemist in the automotive industry? What is the special aspect of working at Daimler as a chemist in the automotive area?

It is interesting that today modern chemistry is ever-present in our world and has significantly shaped our life as we know it – of course this influence also applies to the automobile. This becomes obvious when we consider alternative drive concepts. Battery and fuel cell are of course the buzz words we immediately associate with chemistry. However, chemistry plays a part not only in energy storage or energy conversion devices but also in exhaust purification, for example. For example, AdBlue is a urea compound that contributes greatly to the environmental efficiency of our vehicles. Or the topics of light construction and fiber composites, which make the interior and exterior of our products look very elegant. Or paints that would be unthinkable without modern chemistry.
Chemistry plays a visible and invisible role in many areas of the automobile, and the list will be continued. That is why I am very excited to be able to use my expertise on a broad base at Daimler. However, the expertise of my colleagues is just as valuable for me. At Daimler, I have the opportunity to connect with a network of specialists from almost all thematic areas, if needed. I can find out first-hand what requirements my colleagues have, for example in designing a battery – and can take their input into the lab in order to either solve the problems with the help of chemistry or prevent them from occurring altogether. For me it is clear: "The best or nothing" begins with the molecule.

Photo: DRIVE-E 2015 / Wolfgang Reiher

Can you tell us a bit more about the topic of your doctoral thesis?

The title of my doctoral thesis was "New High-Energy Materials for Battery Technology". Electro mobility is a very important future topic, for which it is decisive to continue to do research and development for batteries. The electrification of the drivetrain is "not a discretionary option, but an obligation", said Professor Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and & Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. This was the starting point for my doctoral thesis: I concern myself with the development of energy storage materials for future battery generations with a focus not only on better batteries with significantly more power and greater range but also on batteries that are safe and have a long life. In this respect, costs play a major role. I must always keep them in mind when I am developing new materials in the lab. After that, at the end of the day, there must be a positive business case. The lithium-sulfur technology is a hot candidate for such a battery. My challenge is to "tame" the sulfur in the battery in a possibly simple process with possibly simple means in order to develop a highly potent lithium-sulfur battery.

Martin Frey together with Nobel Prize winner Richard R. Schrock

What successes have you already been able to report through your research?

My work is aimed at giving Daimler access to the technological leadership in the area of lithium-sulfur technology. This can be done very effectively in the form of patents, and has meanwhile led to the registration of 4 patents in the area of lithium-sulfur technology during my one-and-a-half years of doctoral work. One highlight was the award for my research from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft with the Drive-E Study Award in the "Energy Storage" category. Moreover, I was able to present my research personally to Dr. Thomas Weber at the doctoral students' market place in January 2015. I also presented my doctoral thesis successfully through various poster presentations and presentations at specialist conferences. In April 2015, I was given the opportunity to present my research to Professor Dr. Richard Schrock, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry from the year 2015.
However, the greatest success for me is that my colleagues from the Research & Development unit and from Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America come to me and ask me for my expert opinion on the happenings in the battery world. This shows me that the colleagues and thus also Daimler are interested in my work.

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