Ohannes Markarian, Operations Manager: "Skeleton has an excellent work environment for creative minds."
Based in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Saxony-Anhalt, Ohannes joined Skeleton in 2017 to help to build Black Magic, Skeleton’s subsidiary focusing on material development and scaling of the synthesis process for our magic material "curved graphene".
What were you doing before Skeleton?
I am a chemical engineer by education. Before joining Skeleton, I was working for a very large industrial complex in the south of Jordan in the phosphate and fertilizer industry, in charge of producing phosphoric acid. It was an interesting and challenging process, which taught me a lot. The plant was old and revamped several times, meaning there were a lot of issues popping up occasionally, and that is how you learn. You learn when you have challenges!
Before this experience, I also worked as an intern at the Arab Potash Company, the eighth largest potash producer worldwide by volume of production and the sole producer of potash in the Arab World, localized at the south of the Dead Sea.
How did you get interested in chemical engineering?
Since I was a child, I have always loved to understand how things work. Naturally, I started getting more into chemicals and their properties. I really liked crystal formation, which is why I applied to work at the Arab Potash Company, which was fascinating for me. I quickly found that chemical engineering has a lot of applications, you can be working at a refinery, you can be making medicine or food, or treating water. You have this exposure to equipment and chemicals at the same time, with the end goal of creating value. As an engineer, my job is to create value.
You joined Skeleton in 2017. What did you know about the company at that moment?
I didn’t want to stay in the fertilizer industry because I was interested in the future. And in my research about upcoming trends, new materials, batteries, and energy storage technologies quickly came into the equation, which is why I discovered Skeleton and decided to apply.
After joining, I learnt to really enjoy the company’s culture and mindset. I think they both explain a lot of the successes achieved by the company. I joined in 2017 but I still perfectly remember my first day. It was cold and the facility looked almost empty. When I see how it has developed since then, how we are now managing to produce multiple tons of curved graphene per year and improving the quality of the material beyond expected, I feel extremely proud. Our supercapacitors are the most cost-effective and are more sustainable than lithium-ion batteries. We are unique in the world in this regard. After achieving our goals, we expanded significantly and built a larger pilot and demonstration plant to increase the production of the material.
Can you explain what Black Magic does and its role within Skeleton?
We are dealing with everything related to curved graphene, both material development, and production. We are responsible for producing material for our next-generation supercapacitors, in addition to the process of scaling this production from pilot to an industrial scale.
It is a relatively small but quickly growing team within Skeleton. The atmosphere is very open and friendly, and we hang out together a lot. There is a very flat hierarchy and I really appreciate it. We are currently looking for many qualified people because we are in the process of scaling up at an industrial level.
What was the rationale behind establishing Black Magic in Bitterfeld-Wolfen?
We are located in a chemical park, making it very convenient from a regulatory perspective and way easier to access certain chemicals for instance and therefore decrease the cost of our material. Consumers of our by-products are also available in the chemical park, as well as SMEs that can be potential partners and suppliers of equipment.
Another major advantage is that being in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, you have access to a very capable and experienced workforce in this area.
To what extent will curved graphene change the world of materials?
As a carbon, curved graphene is uniquely structured and uniform. We have complete control over the material, so we can adapt it as we want to achieve our goals. Having developed curved graphene allows us to obtain groundbreaking performance for our products. It means you will need fewer cells, fewer modules to obtain similar performances. It then brings a domino effect and the total amount of equipment needed is reduced. In automotive applications, where volume and weight matter a lot, this is very significant. Curved graphene has a great impact on the performance of our supercapacitors but will also have a huge impact on our upcoming SuperBattery and even solid-state batteries in the future. I am extremely proud to contribute to the development of Curved graphene, a technology that has the potential to change the entire energy storage industry.
Why is it critical for an energy storage company to have its proprietary material?
We are vertically integrated, from the material to the application. You rarely find it in energy storage companies. Most battery companies are dependent on, for instance, lithium mining in Chile or anywhere else. Our material is produced and processed by us, then goes into the production of our cells and modules. It makes us unique.
It also gives us the option of adjusting our material, if necessary, the feedback cycle for further development is much shorter.
How would you describe Skeleton’s company culture and what are the key aspects newcomers are happy about?
The key thing is to find the right people. People are the company’s richness, so attracting the right ones, retaining them, and developing them is mandatory.
At Skeleton, everyone is very happy about the flexibility and flat organization. If you have an idea, you are always welcome to present it, it doesn’t matter what your position is in the company. Feedback comes quickly, we are making our own processes and we have patented most of them. This is something a lot of newcomers appreciate, and you couldn’t find it in big corporations. It is an excellent work environment for creative minds. Of course, this also means it is not a typical job and there are a lot of challenges, which is why it doesn’t suit everyone. We need proactive, smart, and hungry people.
Is it easy for you to recruit and retain talents? What are the main qualities you are looking for when recruiting new engineers?
Finding talents is always difficult. The entire energy storage industry is booming, so the demand for talents, and therefore competition, is very high. Once we recruit them, retaining them is not hard because there are many positive aspects to working for Skeleton. We offer competitive perks and packages, and a lot of safety because our future is bright. People want to stay for the long term to contribute to building the future.
Ideal candidates need to be technically sound with an excellent understanding of the basics. Experience in chemicals is welcome but first and foremost you need to have a can-do attitude. This is what I value the most.
How do you see Skeleton evolving?
I am ecstatic about the future of Skeleton. Customers are right now waiting in line for us to further scale our material and cell production, so we need to move fast, but at the same time we have little to worry about commercial traction. This makes it very hard for any other company in the market to compete with us.
Scaling up is a nice problem to have of course because it shows we have good commercial traction. We are in an extremely good position business-wise, but we need to expand to be able to fulfill our orders. We have a clear development pipeline with the next generation of our products, then SuperBattery and eventually solid-state batteries, so we are on a path to becoming a centicorn in the future. I see it happening, but it is not easy and will take a lot of hard work, which is why we are currently hiring, so please check our vacancies!