Acetylene: cornerstone of a firm foundation

As a basic chemical component, acetylene presents as a colourless and inflammable gas at normal temperature. It is widely applied as an important starting material for many everyday products, including pharmaceuticals, plastics, solvents, electronic chemicals and highly elastic textile fibers. We process acetylene into many subsequent products at BASF. Our customers then use these products in the automotive, pharma, construction, consumer goods and textiles industries.

Interior of the materials testing lab, 1937

The production and processing of acetylene is closely connected with the name Walter Reppe (1892—1969), a BASF chemist considered the founder of modern acetylene chemistry.

In the early 1920s, acetylene attracted extensive attention as a highly active chemical material. Its processing, however, was extremely dangerous with the high volatility. For the sake of security, chemists could only work with acetylene under the pressure of no higher than 1.5 bars.

Reppe’s goal was the large-scale use of acetylene for plastic production, but an obstacle was the acetylene process. Therefore, he set about looking for new processing methods in hope to increase the working pressure under the prerequisite of ensuring safety.

After extensive research, he discovered that acetylene could be processed safely under the pressure as high as 25 bars. This discovery cleared the way for the chemist’s aim. With the help of Reppe’s processing technique, BASF researchers laid the foundation for the safe processing of acetylene.

It was a significant success, but Reppe was still not satisfied. Between 1934 and 1938, he conducted research on four fundamental chemical reactions including vinylation, ethinylation, cyclization, and carbonylation, which created a variety of chemical compounds. This chemistry pioneer thus paved the way for the production of countless products that contribute to today’s quality of life.

BASF has been manufacturing acetylene for more than 50 years. Industrial acetylene has been under production in the Ludwigshafen site since 1963. Until now, about 20 production facilities at the Ludwigshafen site use acetylene as a starting material for many other products and value chains. The acetylene plant in the Geismar site was put into production in 2000.

In 2016, the 90th anniversary of Reppe’s invention of the acetylene processing technique, BASF announced it would build a world-scale production plant for acetylene at its Ludwigshafen site. The plant will start up at the end of 2019 and replace the existing plant. The facility will have the capacity to produce 90,000 metric tons of acetylene per year and use the world’s most efficient production process.

“With the new plant, we are strengthening the BASF Verbund by ensuring an efficient supply of the key intermediate acetylene at our Ludwigshafen site. This bring a series of advantages including efficient use of resources, excellent production synergies and short supply routes. This approach will enhance our competitiveness and support growth in the various value chains involving acetylene,” said Dr. Stefan Blank, President of BASF Intermediates division.

Modell neue Acetyleanlage / Model of new acetylene plant
Model of new acetylene plant Ludwigshafen