Research, innovation, study and experimentation, always with a keen eye on a sustainable future. these are the distinctive traits that have played a key role in the long- standing success of BASF, the renowned German chemical company grown into a leading name in the polyurethane sector, specialized in the production and sales of raw materials, systems, special thermoplastic as well as cellular elastomers for over 150 years.
Relying on a network of over 110,000 employees located around the world, BASF combines economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility, improving every day new technologies aimed at sustainable development and at the consolidation of a circular economy.
With this in mind, on the occasion of the “great return to the fair” in Milan, BASF has launched several innovations in a green key. At the booth we met Jutta Schmidt, Communications Performance Materials Manager and Felix Willenbrink, Footwear Manager, who showed us some of the news presented at the Simac Tanning Tech fair.
Finally, we meet again at the fair! What is the feedback?
JS: Very positive. It is a pleasure to physically be back, to be able to shake hands with customers and to properly show them our products, making the materials we have developed touch and see.
Of course, the fair is different from what we are used to, but we are registering a lot of turnout: many professionals came from Italy of course, but also from Europe and even from North and South America. Seeing such an inflow of people is a great satisfaction for us, also considering the several travel restrictions still in effect, that make it difficult to attend, especially from overseas.
What news did you launch here at the fair?
FW: As everyone knows, BASF is renowned for its commitment to the research and development of eco-sustainable and high- performance solutions, so we decided to present something in line with our mission: news related to sustainable footwear, high- performance materials and coating solutions for soles. Such as the sustainable PU, TPU and E-TPU systems, 3D printed molds, functional coatings and all the comfort of a sneaker for a casual shoe.
What can you tell us in detail about these innovations?
FW: Our different divisions have focused on the aspects most requested by the market, looking for solutions complying with the performance and sustainability standards. From the Coatings division came innovative coatings technologies for highly flexible substrates. As NovaFlex valureTM , we market reverse- coated substrates which can achieve unique optical and haptic properties by combining paint formulation, texture, and carrier material. NovaCoat-D combines in-mold coating and release coating in a new way. Besides its demold properties, the coating provides protection against sunlight, scratches, and dirt.
As for 3D printing, we have launched a real revolution for additive manufacturing: with the Forward AM brand, we have developed 3D printed molds and lasts, thanks to which it is possible to significantly short development cycles.
Finally, thanks to our top-performance reactive material Infinergy®, the first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (E-TPU), we have transferred the technical characteristics of the sneaker to casual and business footwear. The closed-cell structure of this material combines the properties of TPU with the advantages of foams, making it as elastic as rubber but lighter and able to provide unique cushioning: the final consumer will finally be able to benefit from the comfort of a sneaker without giving up to the look of an elegant shoe.
‘Reduce, Recycle, Rethink’ is the claim you have combined with ‘A clean choice’: a clear reference to the circular economy and ecological production. What actions have you taken in this regard?
JS: To fully achieve a circular economy, it is necessary to rethink the production and use systems of footwear and reduce the consumption of fossil resources: this is a clean choice. We took this path many years ago and we are implementing it with the development of bio-plastic solutions, very suitable for all applications in the footwear sector, such as Elastopan®N (PU) and Elastollan®N (TPU).
We are also studying the concept of “Biomass balance”, that is the replacement of the ‘classic’ raw materials at the beginning of the production chain with others based on organic or recycled materials.
The manufacturing processes do not change, but the result is a finished product made by significantly reducing both the consumption of fossil raw materials and greenhouse gas emissions, able to maintain its qualities and properties unaltered. This concept is very interesting for the footwear sector, as it allows manufacturers to change or adapt neither the design of the product nor the manufacturing processes.