Employees in research and development worldwide
Supplying a fast-growing global population with food, energy and clean water, making the best use of limited natural resources and protecting our climate are among the greatest challenges of our time. Innovations based on chemistry play a pivotal role in overcoming these. New, resource-efficient solutions and business models are needed to decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources. Together with our customers from almost all sectors, we are working on innovative processes, technologies and products for a sustainable future. This is how we ensure our long-term business success and that of our customers.
Innovation has always been the key to BASF’s success, especially in a challenging market environment. The knowledge and skills of our highly qualified employees is our most valuable resource here and the source of our innovative strength. We had approximately 10,000 employees involved in research and development worldwide in 2020.
Our three global research divisions are run from our key regions – Europe, Asia Pacific and North America: Process Research & Chemical Engineering (Ludwigshafen, Germany); Advanced Materials & Systems Research (Shanghai, China); and Bioscience Research (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina). Together with the development units in our operating divisions, they form the core of our global Know-How Verbund. BASF New Business GmbH and BASF Venture Capital GmbH supplement this network with the task of developing new technologies, attractive markets and new business models for BASF.
In 2020, we generated sales of around €10 billion with products launched on the market in the past five years that stemmed from research and development activities. In the long term, we aim to continue significantly increasing sales and earnings with new and improved products – especially with Accelerator products, which make a substantial sustainability contribution in the value chain.
Employees in research and development worldwide
Our global network of outstanding universities, research institutes and companies forms an important part of our Know-How Verbund. It gives us direct access to external scientific expertise, talented minds from various disciplines as well as new technologies, and helps us to quickly develop targeted, marketable innovations, strengthen our portfolio with creative new projects, and in this way, reach our growth targets.
Our eight academic research alliances bundle partnerships with several research groups in a region or with a specific research focus.
The Northeast Research Alliance (NORA) and the California Research Alliance (CARA) are located in the United States. NORA focuses on materials science and biosciences, catalysis research, digitalization and cooperation with startups. The computer models developed together with our partners suggest new synthesis pathways for molecules and enable us to better predict molecular properties, for example for selecting test substances for crop protection products. Big data from BASF and novel algorithms were used to optimize these models. Teams at the interdisciplinary CARA research center are working on new functional materials, formulations, digital methods, catalysis, chemical synthesis, and in engineering sciences and biosciences. As part of this cooperative venture, BASF researchers and partners are investigating catalyst nanoparticles made of palladium and platinum, among other things. With the help of computer-based calculations, the team developed a completely new understanding of how catalysts work, enabling us to produce new, more powerful catalysts.
The Joint Research Network on Advanced Materials and Systems (JONAS) research center is active in Europe. Research here concentrates on supramolecular chemistry, polymer chemistry and the incubation of sustainable technologies. Biopolymer synthesis and research into the full biodegradability of biopolymers in various biospheres have been a focus area of BASF’s research for many years. In cooperation with ETH Zürich, we have developed an analysis tool that can be used to evaluate biodegradable polymers with respect to both their technical properties and stakeholder acceptance at an early stage of our innovation process. The aim is to concentrate on the development of such sustainable, biodegradable polymers.
At the Network for Asian Open Research (NAO) in the Asia Pacific region, research focuses on polymer and colloid chemistry, catalysis, machine learning and smart manufacturing.
We are working on innovative components and materials for electrochemical energy storage with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) at the Battery and Electrochemistry Laboratory (BELLA). At the joint Catalysis Research Laboratory (CaRLa), BASF is researching homogeneous catalysis in cooperation with the University of Heidelberg. Researchers there have discovered a new approach to using CO2 as a chemical feedstock. They identified the catalysts and process conditions to produce sodium acrylate from ethylene and CO2, a crucial step toward scaling the process for industrial use. BasCat is a joint laboratory operated by the UniCat cluster of excellence and BASF at the Technical University of Berlin, where new heterogenous catalysis concepts are being explored together with the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society. The iL (Innovation Lab) in Heidelberg, Germany, focuses on functional printing, printed sensors and IoT (internet of things) applications.
Our eight Academic Research Alliances are complemented by cooperations with around 250 universities and research institutes as well as collaborations with a large number of companies.
Research and development expenses amounted to €2,086 million in 2020 (2019: €2,158 million). The operating divisions accounted for 82% of total research and development expenses in 2020. The remaining 18% related to cross-divisional corporate research focusing on long-term topics of strategic importance to the BASF Group.
As part of our corporate strategy, we combined research and development at an organizational level, making it better aligned with the needs of our customers. Our aim is to continue to shorten the time to market and accelerate the company’s organic growth. A strong customer focus, digitalization, creativity, efficiency and collaboration with external partners are among the most important success factors here. In order to bring promising ideas to market as quickly as possible, we regularly assess our research projects using a multistep process and prioritize our focus areas accordingly.
Our cross-divisional corporate research remains closely aligned with the requirements of our operating divisions and allows space to review creative research approaches quickly and in an agile way. We strengthen existing and continually develop new, key technologies that are of central significance for our operating divisions, such as polymer technologies, catalyst processes or biotechnological methods.
We are fine-tuning our innovation strategies in all of our business areas to ensure a balanced portfolio of incremental and disruptive innovation, as well as of process, product and business models.
We have also identified additional, far-sighted topics that go above and beyond the current focus areas of our divisions. The aim is to use these to leverage new business opportunities within the next few years. In addition, we are working on overarching projects with a high technological, social or regulatory relevance. For instance, one global research and development program, the Carbon Management R&D Program, is focusing on the underlying energy-intensive production processes for basic chemicals. These basic chemicals account for around 70% of the CO2 emissions produced by the European chemical industry.1 The program covers topics such as the development of new catalysts for dry reforming methane with CO2 to produce syngas, and using methane pyrolysis to produce hydrogen from natural gas or biogas.
Our global research and development presence is vital to our success. In Asia in particular, we want to continue advancing our research and development activities with a focus on growth in regional markets. A stronger presence outside Europe creates new opportunities for developing and expanding customer relationships and scientific collaborations as well as for gaining access to talented employees. This strengthens our Research and Development Verbund and makes BASF an even more attractive partner and employer. The Ludwigshafen site in Germany is and will remain the largest in our Research Verbund. This was once again underlined with the investment in a combined laboratory building for cleanroom and elemental analysis. The new building is scheduled to open in 2022 and will enable us to continue to drive forward Analytics 4.0 with innovative digitalization and automation solutions.
The number and quality of our patents also attest to our power of innovation and long-term competitiveness. In 2020, we filed around 950 new patents worldwide. The Patent Asset Index, a method that compares patent portfolios, once again ranked us among the leading companies in the chemical industry in 2020.
1 Sources: JRC (Energy efficiency and GHG emissions: Prospective scenarios for the Chemical and Petrochemical Industry 2017, Boulamanti A., Moya J.A.); DECHEMA Technology Study (Low carbon energy and feedstock for the European chemical Industry, 2017)