In his job, Hendrik Dubbe lives the technological transformation that everyone is talking about these days. The process engineer recently made a professional change from the development of diesel exhaust gas aftertreatment systems to vehicle batteries. In our interview, he told us why for him this is not a paradigm shift, why he is so fascinated by battery cells and how digitization can contribute to sustainability.
Mr. Dubbe, not only the automotive industry is undergoing a huge transformation. Just recently, there also has been some change in your professional life: you left your job in exhaust gas aftertreatment for a new one in the development of lithium-ion batteries. That sounds like a radical change of direction to me. For you as well?
Not really. I am an engineer. And the core of my subject is establishing balance equations of certain physical units such as mass, momentum and energy, and their application. Whether I look at a catalyst for exhaust gas aftertreatment or a lithium-ion cell - the fields of application may differ, but the basic principles are the same. Maybe the equations look a bit different. But there are a number of similarities. Both are systems that convert energy and transport mass. Both consist of components with a certain morphology and material properties that determine system performance. And both are working with similar chemical processes. So, there's nothing "radically different" about it – for me, it would be "radical" if I were to be hired in Controlling or HR (laughs).
What does fascinate you about batteries and battery cells?
Basically, what you do with a battery cell is the following: you mix a few chemicals, attach it to an electrical consumer and in the end you have electrical energy. I think that this is just awesome. Building your own battery, that’s actually quite simple: a few 5-cent coins, carton, aluminum foil, vinegar essence, a light emitting diode, and that's it! Of course, this is not a high-performance battery, but the diode will continue flickering at least until you cannot stand the bestial smell of vinegar anymore. This conversion from chemical to electrical energy is what fascinates me. In addition, energy storage is a crucial topic - not only in the context of mobility. In the upcoming years and decades, many new business fields will emerge in this area and, I think, we as a company can still achieve a lot here.
What is the role of sustainability in your everyday development work?
Our vision is a sustainable battery, so sustainability is one of our key principles in development work. Developing and building a car, but also a battery, requires a great deal of materials. Our goal is always to keep the need for natural resources and the impact on the environment as low as possible. That's why we always consider the entire life cycle of a product – also for a battery. This means that we keep in mind the various "life phases" already in the development stage - from the use of raw materials and the production to its use and recycling.
In your last area of work, the Digital Powertrain Development, you were already involved in the topic of sustainability. To what extent does digitalization in automotive development contribute to more sustainability?
Certainly, as in other industries, one factor is cooperation with other colleagues. In other words: Skype or other collaboration tools instead of business trips. Digital applications instead of Excel tables that are printed out in batches. These are supposedly small contributions, but in total they have positive effects on the environment. Yet also in powertrain development itself, we are increasingly relying on digital solutions. What we call "overall system optimization" is important here. If we change something in component A, something will also change in component B - and possibly also in component X. Using digital tools we can adjust the individual parts of a system to each other much more easily. In addition, we need significantly less time on the engine test bench and less hardware, i.e. engines and test vehicles. This, in turn, saves fuel, reduces emissions and conserves resources.
If not Mercedes, then...
"...uncomfortable at first. You have to overcome the creature of habit in you. Effective change comes only from within. Then you can create."
To me personally living sustainably means,...
"... to go through life consciously. Always asking yourself: What’s behind this? Do I really need this right now? And also using my own resources in a responsible way."
In addition to your work at Daimler, you are teaching financial mathematics and statistics at the Academy for Advanced Training at Nürtingen University and Chemistry for Automotive Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences Esslingen. What do you tell your students when they ask about the powertrain technology of the future?
That neither I nor anyone else can tell with absolute certainty. My personal feeling is that the powertrain technology of the future will be at least partially electric in one way or another. The degree of electrification depends, as we can already see today, on various factors: the technology, the legal framework, economic factors and the demands of our customers. However, above all, it depends on the battery. In all scenarios, it is the key technology that we must continue to improve. As an engineer, I try to do my part. Because I believe that the electrification of our mobility is also an obligation and expression of respect for future generations.
What is the best powertrain technology for you?
I wouldn't say there's a particular one. In my opinion, there is only a best powertrain technology for a certain usage behavior. I live about ten kilometers away from my workplace, for example. I don't need a car with a lot of power in the garage. However, if I had to drive several hundred kilometers of highway every day, I would probably have a different model. I think, hybrids will certainly play a role, in addition to purely electric cars. This is a balancing act. It not only affects car manufacturers but also my students. On the one hand, there are many opportunities for professional development due to the need for optimization in the field of conventional combustion engines. On the other hand, students need to prepare themselves for future technologies. Ten or fifteen years ago, students did not have to make this difficult choice.
What makes you optimistic that Daimler will continue to play a major role in shaping our mobility in the future?
Straight answer: Our colleagues. We have super smart and creative minds on board. With them, I am sure we can master our "Ambition 2039" and change the world.