Urbanisation, changing climate and population explosion along with increasing energy requirements – the chemical industry needs to come up with effective contributions to finding solutions to issues of future relevance. During a guest lecture at the University of Konstanz, Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer, Executive Research Officer of the world’s largest chemical company, BASF SE, spoke about future research issues and the solutions that he believes can only be found through international and interdisciplinary cooperation. Industrial and plant biotechnology have been two of BASF’s many growth areas for many years.
"Challenges of the future cannot be met with today's products and technologies," said Andreas Kreimeyer, BASF's Executive Research Officer, calling for close cooperation between politicians, science and business in the endeavour to develop new concepts. He took examples from BASF's R&D activities to illustrate his ideas. BASF plans to invest around one billion euros in research and development in its five growth clusters: energy management, plant biotechnology, white biotechnology, nanotechnology and resource change - research and development that is envisaged to counteract emerging megatrends such as the increase in the number of elderly people, increasing urbanisation, constantly rising energy requirements and the continuous globalisation and internationalisation of markets.
In Germany, 60 per cent of all research and development expenditures for new materials and intermediate products arise in the chemical industry," said Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer referring to the role of the chemical sector as innovation motor. The chemical industry is the most important supplier of new and intermediate materials for other sectors and sets major impulses in terms of technologies used, ranging from regenerative energies (development of solar cells) to new mobility solutions (development of batteries for electrical cars).
BASF and Monsanto have recently announced an expansion of their joint efforts in the field of plant biotechnology to maximise the yields of crops that are up to 6 to 10 per cent more resistant to environmental factors. "The initial field trials have been very positive and the plants have shown a greater resistance to drought for example," said Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer commenting on the companies' cooperative project that will commence in 2012. The chemical company's core research strategy topics in this growth cluster contribute to a greater efficiency in agriculture as well as to improved health and nutrition of humans and animals.
In the "White Biotechnology" growth cluster, BASF combines its expertise in biocatalysis and fermentation to create biopolymers, chemicals and performance biologicals. The "Nanotechnology" growth cluster focuses on the development of novel display materials, printed electronics and foams as well as medical and technical applications to investigate antimicrobial surfaces of medical devices.
More than 9,300 BASF employees are currently involved in around 3,300 R&D projects. BASF has around 1,900 R&D cooperative agreements with clients, universities, research institutions, high-tech joint ventures and industrial partners. Despite the economic crisis in 2009, BASF has spent around 1.4 billion euros on research and development. The chemical company has approximately 105,000 employees at around 170 sites around the world. Kreimeyer highlighted that a modern chemical company needs to be able to sell hundreds of thousands of tons of bulk chemicals at the same time as selling system solutions for new batteries. He made it clear that this meant offering products as well as giving clients the knowledge they need to effectively use such solutions.
"The full extent of the changes arising from the megatrends is not always clearly understood," said Kreimeyer calling on the audience to think about innovation and development. He sees innovation as a crucial prerequisite for the development of individual companies and company groups alike and called for a climate that favours innovation. "The general public must be informed about research in a comprehensible way, and kept more informed about both the risks and opportunities of new technologies," said Kreimeyer calling on industrial and academic researchers to be aware of this.
Kreimeyer further expressed his belief that it is wrong to reject out of hand everything that is new in view of the challenges of future relevance. "If innovation, for example in the field of genetic engineering, is rejected out of hand, then we are on the wrong path," said Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer who joined the Main Laboratory of BASF in 1986 and became a member of the BASF Board of Executive Directors in 2003, in charge of Inorganics, Petrochemicals, Intermediates, Chemical Research & Engineering as well as BASF Future Business.