CORPORATE RESEARCH

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The chemistry of the future

BASF has two global laboratories in Brazil and research groups focusing mainly on agribusiness and construction

YURI VASCONCELOS | ED. 246 | AUGUST 2016

 

From left to right: Adriana Moura, Marlon Santos, Chrystiane Nunes, Rony Sato, Daniela Contri, Nina Traut

From left to right: Adriana Moura, Marlon Santos, Chrystiane Nunes, Rony Sato, Daniela Contri, Nina Traut

Operating in Brazil for over 100 years, BASF is one of the world’s leading chemical companies in terms of innovation. Brazil, accounting for about 60% of South American business, participates in the global ecosystem of the group’s research and development (R&D), which is headquartered in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany. The Brazilian unit houses two world-class laboratories and is known for its innovative activities related to agriculture, such as soybean and sugarcane crops, and the paint industry, specializing in paint for the walls of buildings. One of the most recent technologies developed by the Brazilian researchers is the Cultivance soybean, the first genetically modified variety developed completely in Brazil. The result of a 10-year partnership with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), it was introduced on the market in June 2016 and has already been approved for use in the European Union and almost 20 other countries.

“The Cultivance soybean was the first variety in the field of plant biotechnology approved commercially throughout BASF. This product launch reveals the importance of Brazil in the global context of the group’s innovation activities,” says technology and innovation manager Rony Akio Sato. According to Sato, the Cultivance Protection System is ideal for use in integrated management of invasive species in the fields. “It combines genetically modified soybean cultivars that have competitive genetic potential with the use of broad-spectrum herbicides to control grasses and weeds with broad leaves ,” explains Daniela Contri, manager of innovation and strategy for Latin America.

Company
BASF
R&D Center
São Paulo, SP
Nº of employees
4,200 in Brazil
Principal products
Soybean seeds, sugarcane seedlings, paint for buildings, pesticides, drug ingredients and ingredients for plastics

Another technology developed in Brazil is the AgMusa system, for sugarcane crops. It is a technological system designed to renew high-yield sugarcane fields by planting healthy sugarcane seedlings produced in nurseries using varieties obtained from companies and institutions specialized in genetic improvement. The seedlings are subjected to treatment that ensures improved vigor, in addition to the homogeneous genetic identity needed for formation of nurseries. The system allows more rapid introduction of a new cultivar in the fields. In the conventional method for multiplication and development of nurseries, the producer works on a new variety for six years before it can be used commercially. With the AgMusa system, this time is cut in half. “This technology facilitates the rapid expansion of new sugarcane varieties with greater production potential,” says Daniela Contri.

In the construction sector, one of BASF’s principal regional innovations is Suvinil Família Protegida antibacterial paint, which reduces microorganisms on walls by up to 99% for a period of two years. BASF acquired control of Suvinil in 1969 and incorporated its R&D activities. The product has the seal of approval of the Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) The company also developed an acrylic paint for the Suvinil line that is used on external surfaces. It is manufactured with special resins that reduce the accumulation of dirt on walls and protect against the wind, and another high-concentration, high-yield paint named Max Rendimento. “In order to show clients its innovations for the housing market, BASF built in São Paulo its first energy-efficient house in a tropical climate — there are nine more units around the world in cities where the weather is cold or temperate,” says corporate innovation manager Nina Traut.

The Global Environment and Food Safety Laboratory in Guaratinguetá (SP): evaluation of pesticide residues

The Global Environment and Food Safety Laboratory in Guaratinguetá (SP): evaluation of pesticide residues

Dubbed the Ecoefficient House, or CasaE, this project incorporates solutions to reduce water and power consumption and curb CO2 emissions.  The 400-square-meter building exhibits 36 products developed by BASF worldwide and solutions from 29 partner companies, half of which are Brazilian (Gerdau, Tigre, Deca, Tecmar, etc.). Its porous flooring is built with permeable concrete or high-permeability polyurethane compounds that allow water to pass through it, in addition to cold pigments applied in paints that help regulate the ambient temperature. “Thanks to the use of differentiated construction materials, CasaE  can use up to 70% less energy,” says Sato. The project received LEED-NC Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification granted to new sustainable buildings by the Green Building Council, an organization present in more than 90 countries whose purpose is to promote sustainable construction.

R&D activities in Brazil began in the 1950s with the installation of the first application development laboratories, whose purpose was to transfer technology. Today BASF has 4,200 employees in Brazil, distributed among the central office in São Paulo and nine factories. The company does not disclose figures on the number of employees involved in R&D in Brazil, or the amount of money invested in this area. It does state that the profile of the R&D team is diverse and includes agronomists, chemists, biologists, chemical engineers and pharmacists. More than 80% have undergraduate degrees, with 11% holding master’s degrees and 3% with PhDs. Three of every 10 researchers are women. The company also reports that it interacts annually with about 60 to 80 Brazilian research institutions in its search for innovations. In addition to Embrapa, BASF has partnerships with the São Paulo State University (Unesp) , the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the State University of Maringá (UEM).

Porous flooring made of polyurethane or concrete, installed in the Ecoefficient House in São Paulo

Porous flooring made of polyurethane or concrete, installed in the Ecoefficient House in São Paulo

World-class
Located in upstate São Paulo, the Guaratinguetá factory is BASF’s largest chemical complex in South America. It produces 1,500 different products and houses one of the group’s two global research centers in Brazil, the Global  Environment and Food Safety Laboratory (GENCS). “At GENCS we conduct studies to evaluate pesticide residues in food, in addition to the environmental studies required by Brazilian and international regulatory authorities for registering new products and extending the use of existing ones,” says Sato. He explains that these studies begin in the field, where scientists simulate the use of pesticides recommended for each specific crop of interest (coffee, corn, vegetables, etc.). Afterwards, the researchers collect samples of the crops and send them for analysis in the laboratory. During this stage, the samples are processed and analyzed using purification and quantification techniques. “Based on the results of the residue studies and on the toxicological data, we verify food safety, thereby ensuring that BASF innovations for agriculture comply with regulatory and sustainability requirements. Since 2001, GENCS has been recognized by the National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (Inmetro) for good laboratory practices that ensure the trackability and reliability of studies conducted there.

The other world-class laboratory in Brazil is the Agricultural Experimental Station in Santo Antônio de Posse, in the Campinas region. Founded 35 years ago, it occupies 110 hectares and is the company’s largest physical research space anywhere in the world. The station accounts for 45% of research done in Brazil. Established with the goal of decentralizing agricultural studies that initially were done only in Germany, the research center is the only one of its kind south of the equator. There BASF develops pesticides for soybeans, sugarcane, corn, coffee, rice, beans and other crops. It also tests biological treatments against weeds, diseases and pests that attack crops. The station belongs to the Crop Protection Unit responsible for developing the Cultivance Production System and AgMusa.

Facade of the Ecoefficient House (CasaE): solutions save 70% on energy costs

Facade of the Ecoefficient House (CasaE): solutions save 70% on energy costs

BASF’s research structure in Brazil also includes the Nutrition and Health Applications Center, the only one of its type that BASF has in South America. Located in Jacareí, São Paulo State, it features a pharmaceutical laboratory that specializes in preparing solid pharmaceutical forms, and a test kitchen known as Newtrition for developing food technologies and prototypes, focusing on breads, cookies and cakes.

Worldwide innovation
BASF’s innovation division has more than 70 R&D centers worldwide and 10,000 researchers, or 10% of its total staff. In 2015, the multinational’s research lines included about 3,000 projects and received €1.95 billion in investments. This figure corresponds to about 3% of its worldwide sales of €70 billion — of this total, €10 billion come from product innovations. With a portfolio of 8,000 families of products that engender 60,000 applications, the company manufactures everything from chemicals, plastics and agricultural pesticides to drug ingredients and paint for buildings. The company does not focus on consumer products for retail sale— such as the old BASF cassette tapes, one of the company’s most visible products in Brazil — but rather inputs, formulations, ingredients, raw materials and intermediate products for many different manufacturing industries.

Among the innovations developed at BASF’s research centers in other countries is the indigo blue pigment that gives jeans their blue color and is used by the textile industry, as well as polystyrene and the inputs used to manufacture plastic toys, such as Legos. “At BASF we constantly strive for innovation ,” says Sato. Proof of this, he says , is that the company files an average of 1,300 patent applications annually. “For the last five years we have been leaders in the Patent Asset Index, a worldwide index created by the principal chemical companies — Bayer, Dow, Du Pont, Evonik and BASF — to measure the value of patents in terms of technological competitiveness and impact on business and the market,” he says.

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