BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, has revealed the research strategy it will pursue in the coming years to maintain its position as a top chemical manufacturer. Central to this effort is bolstering its access to customers, talents and innovation centers around the world. By 2020 half of its global R&D will take place outside Europe.
The company's first step is to add eight new research locations to the 10 already operating around the globe. These will be: a research center for white biotechnology (biotechnology applied to industrial processes) and microbiology in Tarrytown, N.Y.; a research laboratory for thermoplastic polyurethanes in Wyandotte, Mich.; moving its plant science headquarters from Limburgerhof, Germany, to Research Triangle Park, N.C.; a new carbon materials innovation center at Ludwigshafen; an Asian-Pacific innovation campus in Shanghai, China; a research center for battery materials in Amagasaki, Japan; an R&D center for mining in Perth, Australia; and an R&D center for electronics materials in Seoul, Korea.
The announcement was made in May during BASF's annual research press conference at Ludwigshafen, under the theme "Chemistry powers energy: renewable generation, safe storage, and efficient transport and use." The company also revealed it's investing €1.7 billion ($2.2 billion) in R&D this year and will launch 250 new products. In addition, research executive director Andreas Kreimeyer highlighted four main areas he sees as crucial to meeting business targets.
The first is renewable power generation. For the wind power industry, BASF intends to further develop its Baxxodur, Relest and Kerdyn epoxy systems and adhesives, coatings and structural foams for blades. Grouts and admixtures aimed at towers and bases is another focus, as is hydraulic fluids and gear lubricants for nacelles.
For the solar industry, ongoing development is planned for its plastic additives and polyurethane casting system. The company will develop new solutions for etching, texturizing, doping and cleaning solar cells — along with new metallization inks and paints.
Kreimeyer notes BASF's next-generation photovoltaic technology will benefit from two major thrusts: development of absorber materials based on dyes or pigments and conducting materials; and new photovoltaic modules that can be thin, light, semi-transparent, colored, flexible and cost competitive with silicon-based modules.
The second area is safe power storage. Heading up the work here is development of materials and functional components to make more-efficient longer-lasting Li-ion batteries capable of storing more energy. Work will also intensify on metal organic frameworks (MOFs), the highly crystalline structures that have potential for gas, hydrogen and carbon dioxide storage. Electrochemical large-scale batteries, heat storage systems and heat transfer fluids for concentrated solar power plants also attract investment. BASF will investigate further the use of excess electricity generated from wind sources or solar photovoltaics to produce hydrogen or methane.
The third area is efficient power transport. Here, superconductors offer electricity transport and transformation with minimal electrical and thermal losses — and can act as substitutes for permanent magnets in generators such as wind turbines. Kreimeyer pointed out that Germany's own expanding energy demands would require thousands of kilometers of new transmission and distribution cabling by 2020.
Last is the efficient use of energy. Magnetocaloric materials — those that heat up when exposed to magnetic fields and cool down when removed — are one focus. Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are another. Fiber-reinforced polymer composites will increase in importance, especially for the automotive market. Finally, insulation materials that build on existing polyurethane systems and thermoplastic foams will be increasingly in demand by the construction and automotive sectors.
Kreimeyer then went on to emphasize how important interdisciplinary work is for the company — both in science and in industry. Here, he highlighted a number of high-profile 2012 successes — for example, the Energy Boost expandable polyurethane thermoplastic that's used in shoes made by Adidas. The cushioning material is a foamed solid granular thermoplastic that acts like thousands of small energy capsules. Tests have shown the material is three times more temperature-resistant than the standard ethylene vinyl acetate foam used in most running shoes.
He also highlighted the BasCat Berlin center at the Technical University, Berlin, dedicated to the development of new catalytic processes for raw material change. The program promotes the search for alternatives to petroleum to ensure continued future availability of raw materials for the production of chemicals.
Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.