Where will the energy we need come from?
We at BASF have been working on answers to these questions for 150 years.
Our lives are inconceivable without energy – we need it in industry as much as at home. Energy keeps our houses cool in summer and warm in winter, lets us cover great distances in an electric car and allows us to go online with our laptops and tablets at any time.
Demand for energy is growing by the day. By 2050, humanity will need two to three times more energy than it does now, but fossil resources are finite. How can we use it more efficiently? How can we store and transport energy with minimal losses in the process? And how can we expand electricity generation from renewables in a cost-effective manner?
We at BASF have been working on answers to these questions for 150 years: by recognizing future trends early on, keeping our research on the cutting edge and finding flexible solutions for society and the environment.
Examples include technologies that enable houses to secure their own energy supply and the nearly loss-free transmission of electricity. Or a material that ensures optimal voltage in laptops, or battery materials for electric cars. Or technologies that increase the effectiveness of wind and solar power plants.
The power of sun and wind
They represent renewable energy and generate electricity from natural resources: solar and wind power plants. BASF’s expertise goes into many of these facilities in order to improve their efficiency and longevity. Our Seluris® technology, for example, is engineered along the entire solar cell value chain. From cutting and etching to texturing, doping and cleaning, Seluris® processing chemicals contribute toward increasing solar cells’ performance – such as by cleaning the surface of solar wafers so as to minimize the occurrence of flaws.
We are also developing new solutions for solar thermal power plants: In September 2014, for example, we started up a pilot plant together with Novatec Solar in southern Spain that uses molten salt instead of thermal oils as a heat transfer medium. The benefit: Inorganic salts allow operating temperatures to be raised to more than 500 degrees Celsius, which increases electricity yield. BASF is the world’s leading supplier of synthetically produced sodium nitrate for solar thermal power plants.
“With our salts and the knowledge of how to use them at high temperatures, we help solar thermal power plants generate electricity even more efficiently.”
Dr. Kerstin Dünnwald, Head of Business Management for Inorganic Chemicals in BASF’s Monomers division
Wind turbines need to run safely and efficiently over a period of at least 20 years. During that time, they are exposed to enormous weather-related stress factors, such as rain, hail, snow and ultraviolet rays. The strain on a rotor blade is extreme: The tips reach top speeds of 300 kilometers per hour, rotating at a height of around 90 meters in the air. Under these conditions, things like raindrops can turn into tiny bullets. Such speeds also mean enormous pressure on the tips of the blades, which can bend by over a meter.
So it’s no wonder that wind turbine components need to be made of special material. BASF developed its RELEST® coating system based on specific polyurethane chemistry. It protects the rotor blade from the weather and is characterized by high erosion resistance and excellent flexibility.
The insides of many modern rotor blades consist of glass and carbon-fiber mats soaked with and bonded by our Baxxodur® epoxy systems. As a core material, the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) foam Kerdyn® stabilizes rotor blades in conditions of structural and dynamic stress. MasterFlow® mortar solidly bonds tower and foundation – and quickly, too: The mortar hardens rapidly even in inclement weather and at very low temperatures, which helps wind parks to be built faster and therefore more cost-effectively, both onshore and off.
Buildings as power plants
Houses need energy: for light and electrical appliances, for heating and air conditioning. Developments like the “passive house” have already significantly improved energy management in modern buildings. And yet we can even go a step further: Buildings can actually become power plants.
“Smart surface coatings for steel and glass have the potential to generate enough heat and electricity to independently power a building throughout the entire year.”
Kevin Bygate, Chief Executive Officer of SPECIFIC
Together with Swansea University in Wales, along with other partners in industry, BASF is involved in a special project: SPECIFIC (Sustainable Product Engineering Center for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings). SPECIFIC tackles the question of how buildings can, for example, transform incident sunlight into heat or electricity. The team of over 120 scientists, technicians and engineers is developing special roof and façade coatings to address this very issue. BASF supports their work on topics like energy storage, and provides its expertise in photovoltaics along with coatings that give off light and heat.
The electricity transmission of the future
When electricity is transmitted over conventional copper conductors, a portion of the electrical energy is always lost in the form of heat. High-temperature superconductors, on the other hand, can transport considerably higher amounts of electricity. Even at temperatures above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (−196 degrees Celsius), they transmit electricity with almost zero loss, enabling major savings potential in the generation and transport of electricity. Superconductor cables can improve electricity infrastructure in dense urban centers and large industrial sites. Possible applications are in current limiters and transformers for public power grids, and electricity cables for supply networks within cities.
Even generators and electric motors can be made more compact and energy efficient. Superconductor technology enables, for example, better use of renewable energies with wind and water power generators.
The BASF subsidiary Deutsche Nanoschicht GmbH has developed an innovative technique for producing superconductors in a more efficient and environmentally friendly manner. A joint laboratory with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is scheduled to open in 2015 with the goal of further optimizing superconducting tapes.
Real bundles of energy
Electricity is also taking on an increasingly significant role in the field of mobility. Estimates suggest that around 1.2 billion cars will be on the road in 2020 – a good 300 million more than now – most of which in congested urban areas. And yet big cities today are already suffering from smog and noise pollution. That’s why cityscapes of the future will feature more and more electric cars – with high-performance batteries at their core. BASF develops and produces cathode materials and electrolyte formulations for lithium-ion batteries, helping vehicles get as far as possible on a single charge.
“New materials for high-tech lithium-ion batteries are the key to the electromobility of tomorrow.”
Dr. Michael Krausa, Managing Director, Kompetenznetzwerk Lithium-Ionen-Batterien
We work together with strong partners to make this happen. In the collaborative Alpha-Laion project, we are developing new high-energy batteries for electric vehicles with companies like Bosch and Daimler. We also operate a joint laboratory with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology that works on new battery materials. In addition, we are furthering research on lithium-ion batteries and cathode materials at research labs in Amagasaki, Japan, and Beachwood, Ohio, as well as in Ludwigshafen, Germany. BASF is also involved in the international Electrochemistry and Batteries Research Network and in the Lithium-Ion Battery Competence Network in Berlin.
Furthermore, we research additional materials to advance electromobility: For example, we supported BMW in developing several components of the BMW i3, the BMW Group’s first fully electric mass-produced vehicle. BASF’s plastics are built into automotive parts such as the body, seats and roof construction.
For the last three years, we and Volkswagen have presented the Science Award Electrochemistry to researchers around the world in order to support their work on electromobility. The 2014 prize winner, Professor Vanessa Wood, developed a new imaging analysis method that helps improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries.
“Our new visualization methods help researchers to optimize next-generation batteries.”
Professor Vanessa Wood, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Department of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, Switzerland
Current technology for laptops
Smartphones, tablets and laptops: Thanks to their many functions, mobile devices are part of everyday life. Each individual component of these complex electronics must perform at a particularly high level. Some parts, such as the CPU or hard disk, need current with a different voltage than that supplied by the battery; if the voltage were to deviate from the required value, these components would sustain damage. BASF’s high-purity carbonyl iron powder makes a decisive contribution toward solving this problem: Incorporated into the cores of high frequency coils, it ensures that the current flowing into delicate electronics always maintains exactly the right voltage.
BASF discovered how to produce carbonyl iron powder in 1925. Back then, it was used in applications like magnetic tape for the first tape recorders.