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Green Matter: BASF is brewing up a broader bio strategy, starting with K 2013

Not all that long ago, the interest of Germany’s chemical giants such as BASF, Bayer or Evonik in green chemicals and biopolymers could be described as tepid at best. Although developments in the area were followed, and a product or two developed in order not to completely miss the boat, were it ultimately to set sail, it was, as one sales manager put it: “Not where our business is.” Attitudes, however, can change quickly. “BASF intends to further expand its position in a market that is growing by more than 20% every year,” Martin Brudermüller, Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF said at the company's pre-K 2013 press conference.

July 18, 2013

4 Min Read
Green Matter: BASF is brewing up a broader bio strategy, starting with K 2013

Not all that long ago, the interest of Germany’s chemical giants such as BASF, Bayer or Evonik in green chemicals and biopolymers could be described as tepid at best. Although developments in the area were followed, and a product or two developed in order not to completely miss the boat, were it ultimately to set sail, it was, as one sales manager put it: “Not where our business is.”

As my colleague Doug Smock recently pointed out in his article about DuPont’s ambitions regarding renewably sourced engineering plastics, in an interview at K 2010, BASF's chief sustainability officer told PlasticsToday that it views “vehicle lightweighting as the most important way to tackle climate change, not the use of bioplastics,” pretty much summing up the attitude towards these materials back then.

However, attitudes can change fast. Especially notable in the years since the last K is the number of established players in the industry, with BASF in the vanguard, who have steadily added renewable monomers to their portfolios by implementing technologies from innovative young companies—think Genomatica, Renmatrix, and Purac in the case of BASF.
Customer demand, legislation, technical developments and the need to keep up with the competition have been the main drivers behind the creation of the new, renewable ‘building blocks’ for the production of biobased polymers. Because today, bio is business.

Renewable resources as a key plastics strategy step
In fact, at the recent BASF pre-K conference, Martin Brudermüller, Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF, called the “increasing use of renewable resources in areas where doing so adds genuine benefit for customers” a “key step” in BASF’s plastics business strategy. Via what BASF calls a “mass balance methodology” renewable resources are integrated systematically in a cost-effective manner in the” existing “Production Verbund.”
Also, noting that “global megatrends call for plastics solutions,” in a departure from earlier presentations Brudermüller pointed to bioplastics as one of those solutions. He also mentioned that the company was “currently stepping up research into a biodegradable, over 50% - biobased foam, with properties similar to those of polystyrene foam for use as packaging for food and electric and electronic goods.” Still in the pilot phase, commercialization of the new foam, which is based on the company’s partially biobased, compostable ecovio material, is scheduled for 2014.

First application for ecovio injection grade
The company also proudly presented the first application for its new injection molding ecovio grade IS1335: a biodegradable, fully compostable coffee capsule in an aroma-type barrier packaging marketed by the Swiss Coffee Company, together with a dedicated coffeemaker, under the brand name beanarella.
The three-layer barrier packaging is also biodegradable, consisting of an outer paper-based carrier layer, followed by a thin barrier film as a middle layer and an inner sealing layer based on ecovio. All three single layers are certified according to EN 13432. The layers are bonded together by means of the compostable laminating adhesive Epotal Eco from BASF.Swiss Coffee Company Beanerella
An important element in the new coffee concept is that the Swiss Coffee Company is putting a system in place for the collection of the used beanarella capsules and packaging and—at least during the pilot phase—will also handle the industrial composting process in Switzerland.
The coffee product and disposal concept is to be launched next in Germany, Austria and the U.S. “Each launch on the market will focus on a sound disposal concept for creating value from the promise of biodegradability,” said Lars Börger, head of Global New Business Development Biodegradable Plastics. “BASF will assist in this regard.”

The involvement in these developments clearly signals the fact that BASF acknowledges the potential of these technologies and that it has a green agenda for bio(degradable) materials that it is putting its weight behind. As the coffee project shows, the company is also emphasizing the need for establishing adequate composting infrastructures, without which the market potential for biodegradables will not be able to develop. In cooperation with consumers, retailers, brand owners and waste disposal companies, the company is currently working on closed loop composting projects in various parts of the world to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept.

However, as Brudermüller also pointed out, investment in biobased and renewable products makes pur business sense, as well. The bioplastics industry is a young and dynamic one, where a lot is going on, even in today’s reluctant economy. “BASF intends to further expand its position in a market that is growing by more than 20% every year,” he said.
 

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