Last year I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time. I was appropriately awed by the beauty of the landscape and majestic wildlife. One site that stays in my memory is the Grand Prismatic Spring — a steamy, colorful hot spring that is said to be the largest in the U.S. and third largest in the world. Our expert guide explained that some of the brilliant colors were due to microbes, and that scientists from around the world come to study the microbial mats that thrive under the extreme temperature conditions of the spring.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of BASF Corp.’s (Florham Park, N.J.; www.basf.com) research and development hubs, in Tarrytown, N.Y., where experts were on hand to discuss a number of key technology areas. One area is “white” biotechnology, a term used to describe industrial biotechnology. Markus Pompejus, vice president of research for white biotechnology at BASF in North America and CEO for Verenium, which BASF acquired late last year, discussed how technologies are being used to adapt enzymes to target applications. Examples can range from an enzyme for laundry use that works well in cold temperatures to applications in the oil-and-gas industry. He explained that scientists seek out lifeforms, such as bacteria, in extreme ecosystems in hopes of finding enzymes that might be of interest for a specific area of application. This brought back my memory of the Grand Prismatic Spring, because enzyme research is one of the scientific studies our guide was referring to.
BASF experts further described a wide variety of technology areas that they are working on, including the following: a service to economically and ecologically optimize concrete mixtures using both cementitious and non-cementitious materials; production of both cathode materials and electrolytes for batteries; polymers and coatings for seed enhancement in agricultural use; and formulations for food, beverage and dietary supplements such as vitamins, and functional ingredients for cereals, desserts and more.
Michael Pcolinski, vice president of innovation and technology in North America described a few additional “growth fields” for BASF, including organic electronics (organic LEDs), lightweight composite materials, plant biotechnology, wind energy and water solutions (for example, using polymer beads to reduce the amount of water needed to wash clothes). BASF’s logo describes itself as “The Chemical Company,” and it is clear from the company’s technology portfolio just how wide-reaching chemistry is.
BASF is part of the chemical process industries (CPI) and the wide breadth of subjects under its umbrella only starts to describe the CPI. Readers of Chemical Engineering will know that you can find the term CPI in veritably every issue. The CPI consist of: chemicals, including petrochemicals; drugs and cosmetics; fertilizers and agricultural chemicals; foods and beverages; synthetic fibers; metallurgical and metal products; paints and coatings; petroleum refining and coal products; plastics; soaps and detergents; stone, clay, glass and ceramics; pulp-and-paper products; and additional industries where chemical processing takes place.
The range of the CPI is broad enough to reach the hidden resources of Yellowstone National Park. If you haven’t been to Yellowstone yet, consider putting it on your “bucket list.” You won’t be disappointed.
Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief
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