As coatings producers and their raw material suppliers increasingly focus on R&D as a platform for growth, BASF is showing the big competitive advantages it has as an innovator in coatings and other sectors.
First it has the benefit of being a massive vertically integrated operation, making not only coatings and their raw materials but also the basic chemicals from which the raw materials are derived.
Then because of its size as the world’s largest chemicals producer it has been able to build up an extensive R&D network across the world while running a big central research unit at its corporate HQ in Ludwigshafen, Germany. As a result it has been able to generate a steady stream of new technologies and applications in coatings and related segments.
“Research and development at BASF is one of our strategic assets for generating growth based on technical and scientific know-how,” Andreas Kreimeyer, the company’s research executive director, told an R&D press conference at Ludwigshafen. “More than 9,600 of our employees are working in international and interdisciplinary teams on about 3,600 projects aimed at finding answers to the challenges of the future.”
By 2015 the company aims to generate sales of €6-8 billion ($8-11 billion) from innovations that have not been on the market for more than five years.
The main theme of the conference was mobility within the context of greater energy efficiency, lowering dependence on fossil fuels and reduced carbon emissions. “Through our research we want to develop products and technologies that will secure individual flexibility and mobility while protecting the environment and climate,” said Kreimeyer.
A lot of BASF’s innovations will come from its own R&D activities. But it also expects many to be generated from collaborative efforts, including from research schemes, which are sponsored by the German and other governments.
“We are participating in approximately 1,900 cooperative projects worldwide,” said Kreimeyer. “This international and interdisciplinary know-how Verbund (integrated network) helps us to bring innovations more rapidly into the markets. This gives us an edge in global competition.”
BASF has recently reached agreement with Henkel on the formation of a joint R&D venture to develop corrosion protection solutions for the automobile industry, which will lower costs and improve environmental compatibility while enhancing performance. The companies will bring together their expertise in the areas of metal pre-treatment and dip coating.
“Pooling the experience and expertise of both companies offers a solid basis for researching a new and efficient technology,” said Raimar Jahn, president of BASF’s coatings division.
A coatings innovation featured in the Ludwigshafen conference was an infrared (IR) reflective coating system for keeping surfaces cooler when exposed to sunlight and thus ultimately saving energy in air conditioning systems.
It is an example of a technological concept, which through the scope of its R&D activities, BASF has been able to develop in different sectors.
The concept was originally introduced as a means for lowering heat generation by roofs through the reflective properties of inorganic pigments. One application of this technology for coil coatings on roofs has been developed in a partnership with Corus, an Anglo-Dutch steel maker now owned by Tata of India.
Relius, BASF’s decorative and protective coatings unit, has extended the use of IR pigments to dark-colored coatings on walls to reduce the amount of heat aborbed by their surfaces by reflecting thermal radiation when they are exposed to sunlight.
Through a partnership with the Korean car manufacturer Hyundai, BASF introduced IR transparent and reflective pigments into the coatings for plastic dashboards, seats and central consoles so that they provided cooler surfaces with less need for energy for air conditioning.
Now BASF is looking at the potential for using the IR pigments technology in coatings and on films in more car components, including automobile windows.
Volker Warzelhan, senior vice president R&D for thermoplastics, told the Ludwigshafen meeting, that IR pigments could make a big contribution to achieving low energy demand in electric vehicles, which is crucial if the battery-powered automobiles are to be viable. With heat management systems employing IR pigments, including IR reflective windows, total energy savings could be high as 45 percent.
BASF’s current IR system in automobiles operates within a coating, which has a transparent dark-coloured pigment on top with infrared light passing through it to be reflected back by a titanium dioxide white layer underneath. In the IR roof coating in buildings the light is reflected by a dark chromium iron oxide pigment without the need for a white backing.
“The transparent pigment used in automobile applications is organic and is derived from perylene,” said Guenter Scherer, a business development executive in BASF’s solar energy management unit. “It is usually a black pigment but can also be dark brown and other lighter colors like orange, ochre and yellow. We haven’t developed a blue yet.”
BASF is also looking at ways of using the IR technology for coatings to cool solar energy celesium cells, which are more efficient in low heat and to curb temperatures in LED lighting components.
Among other recent energy-saving innovations in automobile coatings has been an all-in-one, high solid technology, which has been adopted by Ford. It reduces production time per vehicle by 20 percent, generates 13 percent less carbon dioxide emissions and releases five percent less volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
At BMW’s plant for the Mini car in Oxford, England, a BASF coatings system has been introduced to eliminate the need for an expensive new paint shop in order to increase production capacity. The system involves the integration of the conventional four coating layers so energy-intensive curing of single layers is not required. The output capacity of the plant has been increased by 40 percent or by 240,000 vehicles a year, so that unit coating costs and materials have been reduced.
Another research success displayed at the conference was the latest innovation in coatings for wind turbine blades. This is a high-solid, weather-resistant polyurethane coating which reduces solvent emissions, lowers weight as a result of thinner coating layers while providing better protection against rain, dust particles and UV radiation.
“We are now reaping the benefits of having discovered the wind energy market at an early stage and for having invested in innovative products early on,” said Achim Gast, BASF’s business manager for industrial coatings solutions.
Not surprisingly BASF has been increasing its R&D budget during the recession because of the long-term gains it expect to emanate from it. Last year it reached €1.5 billion and is being raised again in 2011.