Who’s behind the technology powering your electric car?
Experts are crucial to match materials with new e-mobility applications
DeeDee Smith has been putting her PhD in organic chemistry to good use at Solvay since 2011. A few years ago, after having worked in advanced technologies, she decided to move closer to the business. Today, her job as eMobility Marketing Manager and E-Motors Global Lead at Solvay Materials consists of talking to customers in the electric vehicle industry to understand what they need, explain what Solvay’s advanced materials can do, and see how both can meet. “The skills that I developed early on, being able to talk to people regardless of their background and explain things in a way that everybody can understand, have made me successful in this job,” she says.
Optimizing e-mobility: Supplier and customer work hand in hand
With the current take-off of electric vehicles, it’s an interesting time to be in the e-mobility business and accompany such a mass transition. Every day, DeeDee is in charge of matching material solutions with industry challenges. The objective is to continually improve the efficiency of electric motors and ultimately help manufacturers create EVs whose increased performance and reduced cost of ownership convince an ever-increasing slice of motorists to switch to electric.
To achieve this, “a lot of brilliant people in this industry are coming up with incredible new designs, and those new designs are really pushing the performance boundaries of incumbent materials,” DeeDee continues. “I see our role as making the impossible possible, opening up the design space for engineers.”
This, of course, can only be done when you have the kinds of advanced material solutions that offer that possibility of making the impossible possible, so that engineers and designers can find the best fit for every particular challenge. “One of the things that makes Solvay Specialty Polymers great is that we have one of the broadest portfolio of highly engineered thermoplastics in the industry,” explains DeeDee. “This means we can pick the right material to balance performance and economics. On the other hand, when you look at our portfolio and you see three 1000+ grades of material, it can be quite overwhelming.”
That’s why it’s so important that supplier and customer work hand in hand. “You have to really prove that value to your customer and speak their language,” says DeeDee. “For example, we translate the materials attributes from a polymer scientist viewpoint to an engineering viewpoint. It’s a little bit of that data storytelling coupled with being able to talk between different science languages and knowing who your audience is.”
“A lot of brilliant people in this industry are really pushing the performance boundaries of incumbent materials. I see our role as making the impossible possible, opening up the design space for engineers.”
DeeDee Smith, Marketing Manager & E-Motors Global Lead, Solvay Materials
Demonstrating the value of old and new advanced materials
Over the last three years, further applying the approach of understanding the system rather than focusing on the products, Solvay’s Materials teams have developed a new group, the Application Development Labs team. Within that, a team of experts made up of electrical engineers focuses entirely on electrification. “And when we pair those experts with our material experts internally, the result is amazing,” enthuses DeeDee. “The type of data we are able to generate clearly demonstrates the value our materials can bring.”
One such material is Ketaspire® PEEK, a high-performance thermoplastic that has been used for a long time in internal combustion engines. However, it was discovered that PEEK had very good insulation properties, especially on magnet wire, a characteristic that turns out to be precious in the context of e-mobility – magnet wire is a key part of electric motors. “So we partnered almost a decade ago with a magnet wire supplier to start producing a new innovation: extruded thermoplastics onto magnet wire,” DeeDee explains.
The result is a new product that was officially launched in the Spring of 2023: Ketaspire® PEEK KT-857. It was designed to be extruded directly onto the copper wire without the need for additional materials or processing to improve adhesion. “Removing these steps will help reduce process complexity, and therefore manufacturing costs.” Yet another step towards making e-motor technologies more efficient and accessible.