Materials for the future

There are many possibilities for the future. But which scenarios are likely and offer greater certainty than others?

Companies can only develop the right products and materials if they understand where industries and markets are going. Freudenberg Technology Innovation is a powerhouse in this area.


In the future, will we be living on Mars and commuting to work in flying cars? People have always wondered what the future holds. They want to predict it. In the old days, you asked the gods, consulted the stars, read tea leaves or looked into a crystal ball. Today, experts and scientists turn to advanced technologies and methods as they grapple with the future.

That applies to the roughly 250 employees at Freudenberg Technology Innovation (FTI). “It should come as no surprise that the proverbial crystal ball has nothing to do with our work,” said Ansgar Komp, Director, Fundamental Sciences. “If I had to relate it to a different commonly-known object, it would be a telescope.” FTI focuses on facts that, once they are identified and evaluated, lead to greater foresight for the entire Freudenberg Group. That term is important: At FTI, the Foresight Department analyzes important trends and developments and looks for opportunities for innovation that can benefit the entire Group.

As it builds on this approach, FTI mainly focuses on one idea: “We want to shape the future.”  FTI researchers regularly delve into technical subjects for their own projects, customer orders or cooperative programs. Their work often raises a central question: Which material or product development program deserves millions of euros in investment from Freudenberg?

Innovation through cooperation

Together with Freudenberg’s Business Groups, the corporate function FTI serves as a strategic guide and drives medium- and long-term work on innovations. The staff not only has expertise in materials, production processes, and surface technologies, along with simulation and testing. They also have a deep understanding of the applications for Freudenberg products. “We also coordinate the so-called technology platforms, creating a format for collaboration at Freudenberg,” Komp added. There are now 10 of these platforms, and their goal is to forge Group-wide networks of experts working on key technologies. The fields include digitalization, high-performance materials and solutions for the renewable energy sector and the mobility transition.

Joint value creation

The goal of all of the Group’s joint activities – and not just research and development – is to deliver a new product profitably worldwide. Even if no one is actually using a crystal ball, an all-around approach is a good way to explain FTI’s role in reaching that goal. The circle shown here highlights the competencies that are important.

“At every point, we have strong expertise, and we let it flow into the Group,” Komp said. There is demand for a well-developed knowledge of materials, including raw materials, tied to an in-depth understanding of the applications where Freudenberg products are going to be used.

“This is no small thing. Expertise sometimes has to be built up in the medium- and long-term. Consider fuel cells or medical technology applications. We exploit our full potential when all the disciplines work together,” he said. This is the only way that material characteristics can be defined, translated into product designs and optimized for use before tackling the next challenge:  the product’s industrial production. Simulations and tests are just as important; among other things, they make it possible to provide and further develop reliable, high-quality products.

The strategic program known as MACH is an ongoing, materials-focused project. Every aspect of the circle comes into play here. MACH stands for material compatibility for hydrogen applications. Four Freudenberg Group companies are on board: EagleBurgmann, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, Freudenberg Oil & Gas Technologies and Freudenberg Chemical Specialities.

Building up expertise

We now want to do in-depth research with Business Groups to determine which materials could provide innovations in the future.

Nico Apel, Project Manager Material Compatibility for Hydrogen Applications (MACH)

Launched in January 2023, the team led by Project Manager Nico Apel is zeroing in on applications with good future prospects all along the hydrogen value creation chain. The first step was an analysis by the Foresight Department, which looked at the production, storage, logistics and the use of hydrogen. “We now want to do in-depth research with Business Groups to determine which materials could provide innovations in the future,” said Apel, who works in the Methods Development Department at FTI. It deals with applications relating to electrolysis-based hydrogen production, the production and storage of hydrogen carriers such as methanol and ammonia, hydrogen storage in caverns, and hydrogen transport via pipelines. “At Freudenberg, we already have competencies in these areas and want to selectively expand them,” Apel said.

Shaping, not forecasting

In concrete terms, that means creating material prototypes, developing simulations and testing, and understanding failure mechanisms. Consider an example from one of the five working groups: “Rubber materials that are resistant to hydrogen-based energy carriers have to withstand different environments. For example, methanol can be stored at room temperature and liquid ammonia at 33°C,” said Emiel Dobbelaar, Project Manager, Material Technologies at FTI. Different components may come into use when, for example, large quantities of hydrogen in these forms are transported by ship to Europe from Canada, Australia or Africa.

Pipelines are another way to transport hydrogen. Claudia Godard is an expert on a particular problem that occurs when steel pipes or other metallic parts come into contact with hydrogen. The parts could be valves or seals in the form of magnetic couplings. “Gaseous hydrogen can penetrate metal. The diffusion can lead to brittleness and damage to the material,” Godard said. She is working with SurTec and EagleBurgmann on coatings designed to form a barrier to hydrogen absorption and on the testing needed to solve the problem.

Developers at FTI can actually do something more exciting than predict the future. Together, they can shape it.