Batteries and cakes

Working in a lab environment brings various elements and worlds together. One day, you conduct research and follow clear instructions; another day, you delve into details and explore new territory. This is what our colleague Alexandra finds so fascinating. As a lab engineer, she sees her work at VoltStorage as a perfect blend of utilizing professional skills and pursuing personal interests. It's no wonder: when she's not in the lab mixing electrolytes, she's in her kitchen concocting ingredients for cakes and pastries. 

So, let's sit down together with Alexandra to learn what her story is and what drives her to work with us on developing solutions for the energy transition.

The pursuit of the best formula

Hi Alexandra. Did you always want to work in the chemical engineering and energy area?
I fell in love with chemistry during high school because of the fact that it is literally everywhere all the time. The fact that colour is just due to electrons excited in different amounts fascinated me. I then went to study chemistry in University through to my Masters, and continued through to my PhD, which was in Sustainable Redox Flow Batteries. I had my first taste of electrochemistry during my degree, and have focussed on energy and electrochemistry ever since.

Were there many other women in your technical education?
Most people would assume the opposite. However, I went to an all girls high school in my hometown Lincoln (Great Britain), so women being in the engineering field was in fact all I knew until University. Since then, I have seen female representation is lacking, and it has been a passion of mine to encourage women into science. For example, I ran the International Women’s Day events at my University, and travelled to the United Arab Emirates in 2020 to give talks about bringing women into science.

How is your typical workday at VoltStorage and with whom do you interact the most?
I am Senior Electrochemical Engineer, I work in Research & Development on developing the battery and surrounding systems. Since I joined the company in March 2023, my tasks & days have been varying a lot, which is great. Some days I am full of planning meetings and technical exchanges, and others I am in the laboratory overseeing experiments and testing new concepts. Due to the variation in my tasks, I interact with many people in the company, mostly with management, engineering, electronics, and of couse my colleagues in R&D.

You once stated that your hobby is baking. What parallels does this have compared to your job as an electrochemical engineer?
Baking is a science in itself. I bore people all day about the how’s and why’s of protein contents in different flours affect the structure of the final bake, or the precise temperatures required for getting the crystal structure in chocolate so that it is solid at room temperature, but melts in the mouth. This is similar to my work here, where a specific structure of an electrode, or the pore density of a membrane will vastly affect the performance of the final cell.

You also worked as a food and restaurant critic. Did you always like having a closer look on details and ingredients, how they interact and fit together to create the right outcome?
Yes, definitely, in this food critics job it was about how the dining was paired with the entire restaurant experience. As a sparetime activity, I continue this now in Germany as a chocolate product tester, where I compare the small details of chocolate flavouring techniques and how they affect the final product. For me, the reasearch is the most fun. I love reading about why each ingredient does what it does, chemically speaking, and then getting to see that play out in real life in my kitchen. This actually parallels my working life, where I do literature searches on battery components, and then hope that results in the laboratory.

How would you describe the working culture within the company and the team?
It is both international with everyone speaking English, but also decidedly regional with celebrating Bavarian cultural things such as Weisswurst breakfasts, carneval or Nikolaus Tag. This is very helpful and integrative, especially when you start in Germany. I had never lived alone before, so it was a big step to move in on my own to a new country. I did not speak German when arriving, and have made practicing a priority, as I think it is important if I want to stay here for the long run.

On the other hand, the working culture and team spirit is really high and welcoming. The whole team talk is something I really love and appreciate. We all have lunch together at the same time, and you get to sit with anyone from the company, including senior management, and talk for a while. It is such a nice, small, daily interaction that makes us feel like a team working towards a goal together.

We now have brandnew facilities at Detmoldstrasse – would you consider it a progress?
Absolutely, the laboratory facilities now are incredibly professional. We have built a team of lab analysts and scaled up our R&D to such an impressive extent. Testing space and quality are top tier, we now have much larger testing capability and testing scope.

How similar is the laboratory to a kitchen?
The kitchen is more free, one can simply throw together a cake if wished. The laboratory requires methodical care and attention, ideas need to be planned, and tested in a fair environment.

So, are you more of an researcher or an explorer?
I research at work, and explore in my free time. A wonderful thing about Munich is exploring the mountains every weekend.

What is your next goal or milestone you want to reach?
I think eventually I would like to move towards a more managerial or technical lead role. The company is still growing, so let´s see.

Thank you very much Alexandra for this nice conversation and all the best for your further research and exploration ventures. We are glad to have you on board!!