The "Crispr/Cas" for the chemical industry

Matthias Koebel has been CEO of the newly founded Empa start-up Siloxene AG sinc

Matthias Koebel has been CEO of the newly founded Empa start-up Siloxene AG since the beginning of 2021. Image: Empa

After a successful career in research at Empa, Matthias Koebel has now ventured into the private sector and founded the start-up Siloxene. The young entrepreneur has a construction kit filled with a miracle material, a lot of know-how and - despite the general mood of crisis - a refreshing optimism.

What Matthias Koebel is offering in his portfolio sounds almost like the Crispr/Cas genetic scissors, which were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and can be used to specifically cure genetic diseases. Only for the chemical industry: a multifunctional material component that improves the properties of adhesives, coatings or fillers, depending on the product and customer requirements.

Strictly speaking, this component is a silicon-based, molecular hybrid building material that is only about one nanometer in size. If used correctly, this "tentacle molecule" can specifically improve the properties of certain substances. For example, coatings can become more scratch-resistant, adhesives can have better adhesion or shorter curing times, or fillers can interact more specifically with a resin matrix. With this "multifunctional Lego building block" in his pocket, as Koebel calls it, the researcher recently founded the start-up Siloxene AG. Koebel discovered and investigated the component during his time as a scientist and head of Empa’s "Building Energy Materials and Components" lab.

Besides the raw material, i.e. the macromolecule, he also received the second important component that forms the Siloxene portfolio from Empa: the know-how that is essential in the development of complex chemical products. Siloxene focuses on companies in the plastics processing, adhesives or sealants manufacturing, and building materials industries. "Here, the regulatory hurdles are not as high and we can work with companies to optimize their products and processes relatively easily," Koebel explains. Behind the formulation of an adhesive, for example, there are precisely coordinated mixtures of different chemical substances whose interaction must be understood in order to then make a targeted change.

At the moment, he and his four-person team are already working with various companies on new developments. In such a process, the corporate customers primarily work on their own product formulation, while Siloxene provides technological advice, i.e. how the macromolecule can best be used in a specific case, and makes it available as a raw material. Depending on the need and application, this is also adapted. "For industrial companies, especially in the current crisis, there is an opportunity to invest in research and development, to develop and improve products. We are greatly benefiting from this," says Koebel.

In general, there is little sense of crisis when you talk to Koebel. The financing for a good start has been secured, he says. Koebel can now concentrate on building up his own research and development department and acquiring more corporate customers. In addition, the energetic neo-entrepreneur already has a vision for the next five years: "At the beginning, we will probably have our macromolecule produced by a contract manufacturer. In the long term, however, I would like to set up our own production. I’m an optimist by nature and always look ahead and keep going, no matter what."


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