Innovative and mobile tank concepts

From the age of tank cars into the digital era

Tank cars are a thing of the past; the future comes in form of autonomous vehicles that transport innovative tank containers at the Ludwigshafen site.


Keeping BASF moving

More than 1,000 rail tank cars are in use at the Ludwigshafen site. They transport liquid or gaseous chemical products from the train station to the plants. The length of the rail tracks and the number of switches at the Ludwigshafen site are comparable to the numbers for the Port of Hamburg.

Currently, plants have to wait for about a day for an ordered raw material to be delivered – after all, delivery is a very laborious process. The cars of more than 40 tank car trains have to be put in the right sequence every day. However, the rail logistics experts at BASF have developed an innovative concept to make all of this easier. The idea is to fully automate all transport activities on the site premises in the future. Once the concept has been implemented, plants will be able to order their containers just one hour in advance. The concept consists of three elements:

  • large tank containers
  • a fully automatic container depot
  • autonomous vehicles

In collaboration with Van Hool, a Belgian manufacturer of commercial and industrial vehicles, the BASF rail logistics experts have developed an innovative tank container that is essentially a tank car with a removable tank. The tank container is available in different sizes - from 20 to 52 feet. The largest is two and a half times the size of conventional tank containers. This model will replace the tank cars currently in use at BASF over the coming years.

Experts call this new class of containers B-TC (BASF Class Tank Containers).


October 2018 a tank container depot commenced operations in the northern section of the site. Tank containers are loaded there in a fully automatic process.

The tank container depot features two fully automatic cranes, three rail tracks and eight loading bays. Liquid chemical products can be temporarily stored there until a plant needs them, or until they are transported to the customer. Up to six containers can be stacked and are available on demand at any time.

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Driverless vehicles, also known as automated guided vehicles (AGVs), handle transport from the tank container depot to the plants. They can move along regular roads – either autonomously or automatically. The vehicles are electronically connected to a transponder lane, allowing them to find their way with centimeter accuracy.

BASF and the Dutch VDL Group specifically developed the AGV for use on the site premises. The vehicles are as long as a truck, but can carry twice the load, while still being as maneuverable as a passenger car.

Moreover, they are the first driverless vehicles to share the road with other road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and car and truck drivers. To ensure that traffic safety is nonetheless maintained, the AGV is equipped with many additional features: sensors on all sides of the vehicle serve to identify obstacles, while cameras send real-time images to the control center. Employees in the control center monitor the vehicle’s journey and can intervene at any time.

The AGV has been undergoing test operations at the Ludwigshafen site since April 2017.

Watch the film here: BASF Innovative Mobile Tank Concepts