Solvay’s Solutions for Future Mobility Recognized with Georgia GEAR Award for Innovation and Emerging Technology
If you think you’re seeing more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road, you’re not imagining it. Even with a 16% drop in new car registrations in 2020, the share of global electric car sales rose 70% to a record 4.6%, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The increased demand for electric and hybrid vehicles means greater need for advanced, lightweight materials to manufacture them. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, notes that “while any vehicle can use lightweight materials, they are especially important for hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and electric vehicles.” Such materials offset the weight of batteries and electric motors, improving efficiency and increasing range, and can even result in a smaller and lower-cost battery.
Solvay’s Research and Innovation Center in Alpharetta, Georgia, is helping meet this need by creating and modifying specialty polymers, composites, light-weight thermoplastic composites, and other high-performance materials designed to lighten the weight of cars and planes, thus reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions as well as the number of total parts. The company’s cutting-edge technology has won it Georgia’s 2021 GEAR Award for Innovation and Emerging Technology, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD).
Headquartered in Belgium, Solvay purchased its Alpharetta business and facility in 2001 from BP Amoco, formerly Amoco. The facility consists of business teams for its Materials business and its Product Development Center and is also Solvay’s headquarters for the research and development of aromatic specialty polymers. Around 230 employees are part of the research team. The facility provides pilot scale development of new molecules, extensive testing and characterization capabilities, and application development labs to help bring to life customers’ innovative ideas. Many innovations developed in Alpharetta are scaled up for production in Solvay’s Augusta, Georgia, plant.
“Solvay’s culture of innovation is driven by global trends and traces back to our founder, Ernest Solvay, going back 150 years,” says Carmelo Lo Faro, president of Solvay’s Materials business. “We pride ourselves on developing new technologies that enable customers to develop more advanced technologies. Examples include materials that increase the power density of Li-Ion batteries, materials that improve the efficiency of electric motors and allow for metal replacement of e-motor housings, and light-weight composite materials that improve the aerospace and defense industry.”
Two of the newest automotive products developed in Solvay’s Alpharetta facility are Amodel(R) Supreme PPA and Amodel(R) Bios PPA, high performance semi-aromatic nylon materials that are injection-molded into automotive components. New to the market, they are being tested in e-Motor busbars and high voltage connects, power electronics capacitor supports and modules, and data connectors.
Solvay’s innovations typically start in the technical department, designing a system or component for which a technical challenge needs to be overcome, explains Lo Faro. In the automotive industry, for example, companies developing the next-generation silicone carbide inverters are challenged to find materials that can operate at higher temperatures while still providing both electrical insulation and flame retardancy.
“Three components make our innovation process unique,” Lo Faro says. “First, the breadth of our material product portfolio provides us greater latitude to develop a solution. Second, we have expertise in the applications, which enables us to speak the same language as our customers. Third and most important is our long-standing customer relationships from decades of offering a high level of technical expertise and service.”
Lo Faro is enthusiastic about research and development resources available for businesses in Georgia. “Solvay Materials’ products and services are strongly linked to advanced technologies that span markets. One of the benefits of having an R&I site in Alpharetta is having access to engineers with strong technical backgrounds. For instance, we have a long-standing relationship with Georgia Tech: we’ve hired many engineers and continue to recruit from there,” he says. “Last summer, we met with Governor Kemp and GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson to discuss Solvay’s growth strategy for battery materials, hydrogen economy, and thermoplastic arenas.”
Lo Faro describes Solvay as “passionate” about its involvement in the Alpharetta community and in the state. The company works with local schools to educate them on the importance of STEM in Georgia. During the recent pandemic, several Solvay business units offered emergency products to customers serving healthcare and other sectors. Solvay also launched a Solidarity Fund, initially to provide support to employees experiencing hardships, and now to address other kinds of hardship and natural disasters.
The annual GEAR Awards are voted on by leaders across Georgia’s automotive industry, representing advanced manufacturing companies, universities, and innovation centers.
“Winning the GEAR award will strongly benefit our company and we are honored to receive it. We are proud to be part of this ecosystem and to work more closely with automotive tiers and OEMs who will further expand their businesses into the state of Georgia and who will ultimately be our future customers,” says Lo Faro.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) is the state’s sales and marketing arm, the lead agency for attracting new business investment, encouraging the expansion of existing industry and small businesses, locating new markets for Georgia products, attracting tourists to Georgia, and promoting the state as a destination for arts and location for film, music and digital entertainment projects, as well as planning and mobilizing state resources for economic development. Visit georgia.org for more information.