Doctoral student at the battery development unit Interview with Martin Frey

What job entry possibilities does Daimler offer for chemists? And what makes a chemist's job in the automotive industry particularly interesting? We discussed these and other issues with the former doctoral student Martin Frey, who studied polymer and electrical chemistry before going on to write his dissertation about basic battery research at the University of Stuttgart and subsequently starting to work at the unit that is now the Technology Factory.

Hello, Mr. Frey. Please introduce yourself briefly to our readers.

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

Why did you, as a chemist, decide to write a dissertation that is focused on a practical topic and to work in cooperation with a company?

Daimler was present in my life from my early childhood on, because I grew up in the "Gottlieb-Daimler City" of Schorndorf. I started to love automobiles and the Mercedes-Benz brand at an early age. I already knew very early on that I would like to actively shape the future of mobility at Daimler. If you really want to make a difference, you need a strong partner.

How does a chemist get into a company that is dominated by engineers? Simply by attracting people’s interest! And that’s what I very actively tried to do as a chemistry student — through courses and special lectures on topics that are relevant to 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. There I was able to consolidate my skills and to develop an innovative cathode concept for lithium-sulfur batteries. This enabled me to write my dissertation at the University of Stuttgart in cooperation with Daimler and move seamlessly from my graduate studies to a Ph.D. I had accomplished my mission.

What have you experienced at Daimler so far, from your first day at the company until today?

I started out in the team for electrochemical layers. I knew from day one that I would expand the topic of my master's thesis in my doctoral dissertation and optimize it for use in vehicles. So I switched to the Principles HV Battery team at the E-Drive Center for reasons related to my topic. My task as a chemist is to examine and understand the principles of the battery chemistry of future battery generations — and, most importantly, to use them for creating our future products!

What aspect of the automotive industry especially interests you as a chemist? What’s special about working as a chemist in the automotive sector, and specifically at Daimler?

It’s interesting to see that modern chemistry is omnipresent in our world today and that it has significantly shaped our daily life — and so has the automobile. This becomes obvious if we consider alternative concepts of the powertrain. “Battery” and “fuel cell” are of course the buzzwords we immediately associate with chemistry. But energy storage and energy conversion devices aren’t the only areas in which chemistry plays a part. Chemistry also plays a role in the lightweight construction and fiber composites that make the interior and exterior of our products look very elegant. And paints would be unthinkable without modern chemistry.

At Daimler, I have the opportunity to connect with a network of specialists from almost every thematic area if I need to. I can find out at first hand what my colleagues’ requirements are — for example, if they are designing a battery. And I 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’s clear that "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.” Electric mobility is a very important future-oriented topic, so it is essential that we continue to do research and development work related to batteries. I’m working on the development of energy storage materials for future battery generations. I’m focusing 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 have to always keep them in mind when I’m developing new materials in the lab, because at the end of the day there always has to be a positive business case. Lithium-sulfur technology is a hot candidate for such a battery. My challenge is to “tame” the sulfur in the battery in a process that is as simple as possible and with means that are also as simple as possible 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 achieved through your research?

My work is aimed at making Daimler a leader in the area of lithium-sulfur technology. This can be done very effectively in the form of patents, and that’s why we’ve registered four patents in this area during my one-and-a-half years of doctoral work. One highlight was the recognition of my research by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and the Frauenhofer Gesellschaft, which presented me with the Drive-E Study Award in the "Energy Storage" category. In addition, I was able to present my thesis in various presentations at scientific conferences. In April 2015 I was given the opportunity to present my research to Professor Richard Schrock, the Nobel Prize winner in chemistry from the year 2005.

But the greatest success for me is that my colleagues from the Research & Development unit and from Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America regularly come to me and ask me for my expert opinion on the latest developments in the world of batteries. This shows me that my colleagues and the Daimler Group as a whole are interested in my work.

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