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Nanotechnology at BASF
A great future for tiny particles
Improved products, more efficient processes and new properties
Rarely has a new technology attracted so much interest within only a few years: Almost all the media regularly report on the latest research findings. The world of economy and finance is also placing high hopes in its innovative potential. What is meant is nanotechnology, widely perceived as one of the key technologies of the 21st century. The term nanotechnology is used to describe materials, structures and technologies involving the creation or presence of at least one spatial dimension smaller than a few hundred nanometers. Examples include nanoparticles or thin layers, but also specially designed structures and surfaces.
This highly varied field of activity also plays a major role at BASF. "We are using nanotechnology to improve our existing range of products and services for customers, to create new products or develop existing ones," explains Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF Aktiengesellschaft and Research Executive Director. "For us, the new knowledge and developments in nanotechnology are a further step along the road to profitable growth through innovation."
Nanotechnology is a truly versatile technology both from the scientific viewpoint and because of its myriad possible applications - in chemistry and beyond. BASF is exploring the physical and chemical properties and the production of nanoparticles. These materials are usually integrated into products to improve their performance or create completely new properties. Similarly, BASF is investigating processes for generating nanostructures which also provide improved or novel properties, for example on surfaces or within materials
Manipulating the particles from this "dwarf world" - the ancient Greek word nanos means dwarf - is nothing new for BASF, which has been manufacturing numerous products with properties based on nanoparticles and nanostructures for decades. Among the best-known examples are effect pigments, which are used, for example, to color coatings, paints and plastics. BASF's annual sales of nanotechnology based products currently amount to around €2 billion. The majority of these sales are generated with established products like the examples mentioned above.
Nanoparticles also have a major impact on BASF's traditional business areas
Aqueous polymer dispersions are not only a remarkably versatile class of products, but also one of BASF's greatest strengths. They contain polymer particles ranging from ten to several hundred nanometers in size. Polymer dispersions are found in exterior paints, coatings and adhesives or are used in the finishing of paper, textiles and leather.
Catalysts allow many chemical reactions to take place. The key factor is the size of the catalyst surface area, since this is where the active centers are located that set these reactions in motion. The manufacture of catalysts has always utilized the fact that the total surface area increases dramatically as the particle size decreases while the weight remains the same. The larger this surface area, the more active the catalyst. Catalysts thus open the way for numerous process innovations to make many chemical processes more efficient and resource-saving - in other words more competitive. One current example from process development is the manufacture of the plastic precursor propylene oxide without the formation of by-products.
Nanotechnology also has applications in the food sector. Many vitamins and their precursors, such as carotinoids, are insoluble in water. However, when skillfully produced and formulated as nanoparticles, these substances can easily be mixed even with cold water, and their bioavailability in the human body also increases. Many lemonades and fruit juices contain these specially formulated additives, which often also provide an attractive color.
In the cosmetics sector, BASF has for several years been among the leading suppliers of UV absorbers based on nanoparticulate zinc oxide. Incorporated in sun creams, the small particles are particularly effective in filtering the high-energy radiation out of sunlight. Because of their tiny size, they remain invisible to the naked eye and so the cream is transparent on the skin.
Opening up new markets with nanotechnology
The architecture of nanostructures is an important focus of research for improving established BASF products and developing new ones. "Hyperbranched" polymers are a particularly interesting class of products with widely differing areas of application. Firstly, BASF is using these nanostructured materials to develop novel printing inks which adhere equally well to plastic films made of different starting materials. This allows BASF to offer customers in the printing industry greater flexibility and the means of producing higher quality products. Plastic bags with color that wears off will soon be a thing of the past. These hyperbranched polymers also enhance the properties of high-quality polyurethane coatings for the automotive industry. As a crosslinking component they make the coating more flexible and at the same time more scratch-resistant.
The innovative force of nanotechnology also finds its expression in a broad range of other development projects. For example, BASF is researching into cube-shaped nanostructures consisting of three-dimensionally linked biometallic networks that are capable of storing hydrogen. The greater specific surface area and the high porosity of these "nanocubes" allow them to take up comparatively large amounts of hydrogen. As a rechargeable storage medium for miniaturized fuel cells, they could replace conventional rechargeable batteries in mobile electronic devices such as laptops or cell phones.
A development of BASF Future Business GmbH is now ready for the market: mincor™ is currently being launched for applications in the textile, automotive and construction industries. This trade name stands for a nanoparticulate surface coating which, as it dries, forms nanostructures very similar to those found on the surface of a lotus leaf. The resulting surfaces are water-repellent and stay clean longer. mincor™ is a typical example of how BASF, with the aid of its subsidiary BASF Future Business GmbH founded in 2001, is rapidly creating new business opportunities based on satisfying market needs outside existing business areas.
Open to new impulses for innovations through cooperative ventures
BASF Venture Capital GmbH, a subsidiary of BASF Future Business GmbH, also provides BASF with additional insights into new technologies and attractive growth markets such as nanotechnology by participating in technology funds and startup companies. One example of a direct investment by BASF Venture Capital GmbH is its involvement in Oxonica Ltd. This British company is dedicated to using nanotechnology to solve problems faced by a large number of consumers. For example, Oxonica is currently launching a fuel additive based on nanoparticulate metal oxides. Incorporating this additive in diesel fuel reduces consumption by up to 10 percent.
Almost all areas of science and technology are now contributing to the development of nanotechnology. BASF's Research Verbund offers ideal conditions for BASF to utilize the latest scientific findings on the broadest possible basis as the precondition for its commercial success. In around 1,100 cooperations BASF works together with leading universities, institutes, high-tech startups and partners in industry to find new solutions to problems. The company's worldwide research and development units have a workforce of almost 7,500 employees - around 5,500 of whom are based in Ludwigshafen. Three central technology platforms - Chemicals Research & Engineering, Specialty Chemicals Research and Polymer Research - form the heart of BASF's Research Verbund in Ludwigshafen.
You can download more information and press photos relating to nanotechnology from the Internet at www.basf.de/innovations.
67056 Ludwigshafen, Germany
Phone: +49 621 60-0
Corporate Media Relations
Phone: +49 621 60-99938
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Reprinted with premission.
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