Protecting our climate and making the best use of limited natural resources while supplying the fast-growing global population with food, energy and clean water are among the greatest challenges of our time. Innovations based on chemistry play a pivotal role in overcoming these. That is why we are working together with our customers on innovative processes, technologies and products for a more sustainable future.
Innovation has always been the key to BASF’s success. The knowledge and skills of our highly qualified employees are 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 2021.
Our research and development expenses amounted to €2,216 million in 2021 (2020: €2,086 million). Research and development activities in our operating divisions, which are mainly application and customer-related, accounted for 83% of this figure. Corporate research, in which we bundle cross-divisional and long-term topics, was responsible for 17% of these expenses.
Our innovation focus is on developing sustainable solutions for our customers. We ensure our long-term competitiveness by helping our customers reduce their carbon footprint, use resources more effiiciently, or manufacture products in a more environmentally friendly way and to recycle them.
In 2021, we generated sales of over €11 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 products that make a substantial sustainability contribution in the value chain.
We have already brought our research and development units closer together over the past few years. Effective June 2022, we have reorganized our global research activities to further strengthen our innovation performance and enable us to respond even better and faster to our customers’ industry-specific requirements. Business and application-driven research units that were previously part of the three corporate research divisions have been integrated into the operating divisions, aligning them even more closely with the needs of our customers. The aim is to further shorten the time to market for new products and accelerate BASF’s organic growth. Research activities that are relevant to several operating divisions are now bundled in a central research division steered from Ludwigshafen, Germany. This unit will continue to be globally organized with research centers in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. Together with the development units in our operating divisions, it forms the core of our global Know-How Verbund.
We will continue to use corporate funding to finance research of broad relevance to the BASF Group that goes beyond the industry-specific focus of the individual operating divisions.
Research and development expenses by segment 2021
We strengthen existing research focus areas and continually develop new key technologies that are of central significance for our operating divisions, such as polymer technologies, catalyst processes and biotechnological methods.
We promote creative and agile research approaches. We are driving forward the development of new business areas. For example, we are developing coating technologies and materials that make innovative surfaces and functions possible. Functional films can be used to reduce the frictional resistance of coatings or improve UV protection and weather resistance, for example. Our innovative solutions help our customers to achieve their sustainability goals.
For more information see innovative coatings
As part of our Carbon Management R&D Program, we are carrying out intensive research into pioneering, low-carbon production processes for basic chemicals such as hydrogen. This will enable us to offer our customers products with a lower carbon footprint in the future.
For more information see low-carbon production processes
The number and quality of our patents also attest to our power of innovation and long-term competitiveness. In 2021, we filed around 820 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 2021.
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. They are complemented by cooperations with around 280 universities and research institutes as well as collaborations with a large number of companies.
For more information on our Academic Research Alliances, see BASF Report 2021
Our aim is to quickly turn ideas into innovations for a sustainable future. To achieve this, we bring together the creativity, experience and expertise of our employees with the know-how of our partners from academia and industry.
Recycling industrial off-gases: Industrial off-gases are usually incinerated or thermally recovered. In both cases, CO2 is emitted. To avoid this and to recycle the main components of the off-gases so they can be used in chemical production, BASF has been researching an innovative process – gas fermentation – with the U.S. startup LanzaTech since 2018. The interdisciplinary team achieved an important breakthrough in 2021: Using special bacteria, they were able to produce n-octanol from carbon monoxide and hydrogen for the first time. The molecule is an alcohol and is used in cosmetics, for example. Normally, microorganisms cannot produce n-octanol, which is toxic to them. However, using biotechnological methods, LanzaTech was able to program the organisms to produce and tol-erate n-octanol as part of a gas fermentation process. In parallel, BASF researchers developed a process that enables the continuous separation and purification of n-octanol. Following successful implementation in the laboratory, the team is now working on further process improvements. Integrating gas fermentation technology into the BASF Verbund could contribute to a carbon-neutral circular economy in the future.
Bio-based and biodegradable ingredients: Circular economy and sustainability are also playing an increasingly important role for our customers in the detergent and cleaner industry. That is why interdisciplinary teams at BASF have been working on how to optimize cleaning performance and environmental compatibility. The focus here is on new ingredients that can be produced from renewable raw materials and biodegraded at the end of their productive life cycle. This calls for new approaches in research and development. We are developing a fundamental understanding of how biodegradation occurs under different conditions in joint projects with academic partners and closely coordinated laboratory and field research. The additional integration of new digital tools and faster screening and testing methods enables us to shorten our development times and develop high-performance, environmentally compatible ingredients – not only for cleaning purposes, but also for cosmetics and industrial applications such as agrochemicals.
Animal-free testing methods: The European Union wants to significantly improve the safety of chemical products. BASF supports this goal and has been actively working to make it a reality for many years. For example, in order to meet expanded requirements and additional testing obligations under the E.U.’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability in the future, we are developing innovative in vitro methods with our own laboratory team and together with partners. Among other things, they will help us to efficiently and reliably detect and evaluate potential hormonal effects of substances – even with-out animal testing. BASF has been researching alternative methods for many years and recently reached an important milestone: In 2021, the OECD approved the world’s first toxicology testing strategy without animal testing – a joint project between BASF and Givaudan. It can be used to reliably predict whether a substance causes allergic reactions in the skin without animal testing. We make all methods that we develop and that have regulatory approval freely available to interested companies and authorities.
BASF is the largest chemicals supplier to the transportation industry, with more than 20% of sales to this market in 2021 and leading market positions in OEM coatings, engineering plastics and mobile emissions catalysts. In battery materials, BASF focuses on high-performance cathode active materials (CAM). In this business, chemical innovation is the biggest lever to improve energy density, reliability and safety and to reduce the cost of batteries for electric vehicles. BASF’s unmatched access to OEMs and their suppliers enables an early understanding of market needs, leading to product development from a well-established position in the two key CAM technologies, NCA (Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum) and NCM (Nickel-Cobalt-Manganese).
Battery materials is a very dynamic market, as OEMs have more than 300 electric vehicle models lined up for introduction in the next three to five years. The compounded annual growth rate of the lithium-ion battery market is expected to be about 21% per year to 2030. For 2030, we anticipate annual production of more than 30 million electric vehicles. Depending on the mix of powertrains and technological progress, the market for CAM could be more than 4,200 kilotons, expected to reach a value of €100 billion. BASF has the required financial strength and is committed to driving the expansion of a global, cost-competitive asset footprint.
BASF’s battery materials business unit currently generates annual sales in the triple-digit million-euro range. With the increasing amount of production scrap and used batteries, recycling will grow in importance. We aim to offer cathode materials based on recycled metals from a closed-loop solution. As the most economic and energy-efficient path with the lowest CO2 footprint, such closed-loop solutions will increase in importance during the next decade and will continuously grow to reduce the need for primary metal from mining operations.
BASF has contracted the required base metal raw material supply and is constructing a precursor (PCAM) plant in Harjavalta, Finland. Additionally, BASF has announced a collaboration with Eramet in Indonesia to evaluate the potential to build an HPAL (High-Pressure Acid Leaching) refinery in the country as a source of nickel and cobalt intermediates, which are critical base metal raw materials for the lithium-ion battery value chain.
In February 2020, BASF announced that Schwarzheide, Germany, would be the location for CAM production in Europe, enabling the supply of cathode material for approximately 20 GWh cell capacity per year. The Schwarzheide production plant will use an industry-leading energy mix with a low CO2 footprint. Startup is planned for around the end of 2022.
To complement its own assets, BASF collaborates with TODA KOGYO. The partners established two companies: BASF TODA Battery Materials LLC in Japan (BASF: 66%) and BASF TODA America LLC in the United States (BASF: 100%). On August 31, 2021, BASF formed a majority-owned company (BASF: 51%) with Shanshan, a leading battery materials supplier, named BASF Shanshan Battery Materials Co., Ltd., to produce CAM and precursors in China. These entities plus the European plants in Harjavalta and Schwarzheide will make BASF the first company with capacities in all major markets, increasing its annual capacity to 160,000 metric tons by 2022 with further expansions underway. In March 2022, BASF signed an agreement to secure land for its future CAM and recycling site in Bécancour, Quebec, Canada, as part of its commitment to support North American producers in their transition to e-mobility.
As a leading producer of battery materials, BASF has in-depth expertise in battery chemistry and process technology. We are leveraging this know-how to develop a closed-loop system for the raw materials used to produce CAM, such as nickel, cobalt, manganese and lithium. In 2023, we intend to start up a recycling prototype plant in Schwarzheide, applying a proprietary BASF process with leading recovery rates and a low CO2 footprint. The objective is to further increase sustainability in the value chain for batteries – from collecting end-of-life batteries and recovering mineral raw materials to using these in the production of new battery materials.
Around the world, BASF experts are working on innovative cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries to meet the growing demand for powerful, reliable and low-cost electric vehicles. These efforts will make the battery materials business a significant earnings contributor to the BASF Group, with expected sales of more than €7 billion and an expected EBITDA before special items margin (excluding metals) above 30% by 2030.
We have established several projects to ensure that the value chain we are building is best-in-class regarding ESG criteria
We are partnering globally to ensure a resilient and sustainable metal supply chain for our customers.
Our global production presence ensures customer proximity and energy-efficient production, minimizing the CO2 footprint.
We are investing in recycling to close the loop and offer a best-in-class CO2 footprint.
We engage holistically – locally, regionally, globally.
BASF has the required financial strengt hand is committed to driving the expansion of a global cost-competitive asset footprint.