English

“Can’t do it” … won’t cut it

Author: Dr. Katharina Janke |
Photo: Julia Sellmann
Think big and tinker small: This is how inventors make our world better and better. One of them is Martin Huber, who is working on new ideas under the umbrella of the Haniel company ELG

There’s no stopping him. His mind does not stand still, interconnects thousands of puzzle pieces of his knowledge to create something new. Almost everything Martin Huber, 29, does is amazing. “There is a problem, and I solve it,” he says drily. And this was definitely the case at the start-up competition Beyond Conventions 2018, where the company ELG, a raw-materials recycler, posed this challenge: How can metal delivered to our scrapyards be analysed more easily, quickly and cheaply? Martin Huber invented a prototype in just one day. This prototype creates a “fingerprint” of the material, based on the conductivity of the various alloys.

That very same afternoon, Huber and the ELG team decided to continue working together. “His approach impressed us incredibly, especially as he had no previous knowledge of the steel industry,” recalls Florian Kriependorf, Chief Digital Officer at ELG. Huber’s invention is now being brought to market by another company. Nevertheless, Huber, 29, has remained in touch with ELG: He has leased a space for himself in ELG’s own think tank, EIE Services. This is where Huber does his research – and he is ambitious: “I will help the energy production of the future reach its breakthrough.” It might sound almost a little megalomaniacal, but it’s actually quite realistic.


Florian Kriependorf, Chief Digital Officer at ELG, in a video interview:


During his studies, Huber was already asking himself why nobody had yet transferred the principle of bimetal to plastics. In this process, layers of different metals are bonded and bend under heat. Huber developed a plastic with similar properties. A research institute recently confirmed the effect of his bipolymer: During deformation, forces – several tonnes’ worth, in fact – are generated, and these can be converted into energy. Chemical companies spend up to ten years working on such a product – Huber needed only two years. “I realised that materials research was my thing,” he says. At that point, he stopped working on his doctoral thesis on laser applications, and instead founded his company, poligy GmbH. His plastic has been internationally patented in Germany since 2016.

Martin Huber

“Anything you want, you can invent it”

Martin Huber

“As a child, I spent a lot of time tinkering and building things with my grandfather. He was a textile engineer, and supposedly I’m a spitting image of him,” says Huber. He always wanted to be an inventor. His parents were sceptical at first, but then relented and let him pursue his passion. At 16, he was the only one to choose the biochemistry course at his school. “During this time, I programmed a navigation app,” he says. “Smartphones didn’t exist yet.” Later he studied chemistry and at the same time did an apprenticeship at a Bayer plastics production facility. “The ivory tower is not for me. I love to work with my hands, to potter about with nuts and bolts.”

He now does this in his workshop at EIE, a space originally intended to be used for bicycle storage. His empire measures 40 square metres, stuffed with all kinds of miraculous machines and tinkering tools. In addition to ELG’s own start-up remetal.de, other founding teams have moved into EIE. And right in the middle of it all is Martin Huber. “We benefit from his ideas and the creative exchange,” says Florian Kriependorf. “It takes us further in developing our own business models.”


Martin Huber in a video interview: What does poligy do?


“My dream is that my bipolymer invention really takes off,” Huber says, summing up his goal. For him, it’s about recognition. “Money is less important to me.” New fields of application – for example, in medical technology – are what appeal to him. In fact, he was able to implement a request for a stent – a small metal tube that expands precisely in narrowed coronary arteries when exposed to heat, creating a perfect fit – in just three days. “A great invention results from many small inventions,” emphasises the busy inventor. “Ultimately, anything you want, you can invent it.” Last May, he took the financing of his company to the next level – with securities based on cryptocurrencies. Martin Huber’s start-up is one of the first three companies in Germany to use this new, officially approved procedure. New money for clever ideas.


TINKER & IMPROVE

EIE Services is the innovation unit of the raw-materials dealer and recycler ELG, a company of the Haniel Group. EIE improves processes in the core business and develops new business models in the field of secondary raw materials. One example of this is www.remetal.de. Via this website, private individuals can have their scrap metals collected in an uncomplicated manner – and are paid a fair price. ELG also offers  www.deinschrottplatz.de, a search portal for locating nearby scrapyards.