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BASF Develops New Catalyst for FT Synthesis of Olefins

BASF’s Catalysis Research group in Ludwigshafen, Germany has developed a new catalyst for the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process that allows the dedicated production of olefins—key starting materials in the chemical industry. The new catalyst is an important initial step in the development of the process technology, which is scheduled for completion by the middle of the next decade.

The development of the new heterogeneous catalyst is so far advanced that we can now begin customizing the corresponding process. Our researchers have already achieved considerable successes in only two years after the project launch in mid 2006.

—Professor Dr. Rainer Diercks, Head of BASF's Competence Center Chemicals Research and Engineering

The FT synthesis development activities have so far focused on how to significantly increase selectivity for the production of olefins with two to four carbon atoms.

Facing rising crude prices and potential supply issues, BASF is looking for economic alternatives for the raw material for its chemical products. The most important starting materials for most of the value-added products in the chemical industry are now olefins and aromatics, which are produced mainly by steamcracking of naptha, BASF says. The project to develop FT synthesis as an alternative to cracking naptha is part of a larger core research activity on Raw Material Change, for which BASF allocated about €100 million (US$146 million) for the period 2006 to 2008.

The use of synthesis gas will offer us the possibility of broadening our raw material base in future. This is because synthesis gas can be obtained both from the fossil raw materials oil, gas and coal and from renewable resources.

—Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer, Member of BASF’s Board of Executive Directors and Research Executive Director

Raw Material Change is one of five core elements of BASF’s research strategy, for which BASF allocated a total of €920 million (US$1.34 billion) between 2006 and 2008. The other four research areas (with two-year funding) are:

  • Plant biotechnology (€400 million). Projects include oil plants of high value in nutritional physiology terms with an elevated level of omega-3-fatty acids, or a potato with a modified starch composition for use in the paper, textile and adhesive industries.

  • Nanotechnology (€180 million). BASF is one of the world’s leading companies in the field of chemical nanotechnology, which it is already using in numerous established fields of activity such as polymer dispersions, pigments or catalysts.

  • White biotechnology (€160 million). BASF is using its expertise in biocatalysis and fermentation to generate new products and processes outside the existing main areas of interest of fine chemicals and intermediates. This program also includes activities aimed at broadening the raw material base for fermentative processes and developing processes for the production of polymers from renewable resources. In 2007, BASF posted sales of about €300 million with products generated completely or partially using biotechnological processes.

  • Energy management (€80 million). BASF is developing new technologies and materials for use in energy sources, energy storage and energy conversion. Projects include new materials for organic solar cells, innovative storage media for hydrogen and the membrane electrode assembly of small portable fuel cells.



An area previously not targeted by BASF is energy storage by rechargeable lithium batteries. However, this has changed. I found this webpage where BASF say it is part of their future product lineup.

BASF employs the kind of talent that should be able to make some serious progress in this area but it is also good to see they are making progress on the FT process technology.

Henry Gibson

Any new catalysts that can create organic chemicals from CO and H2 are to be praised. Nuclear power plants can now be the source of these chemicals at costs competative with petroleum, and can even recycle CO2.


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