Why BASF is bullish EV shift will lead to 'innovation trend' for plastics

The future of mobility is electric, and from the standpoint of BASF, which offers a portfolio of electric mobility solutions, everything from the chemistry of the battery to lightweight polymer components play a role in that future.

“If you look at plastics, the shift to electric mobility is the innovation trend,” said Martin Jung, who is president of BASF’s performance materials division. “We believe an electric vehicle will need more plastic material” than a vehicle with a combustion engine.

As a result, the automotive industry is asking for new applications and properties of polymers, Jung told Automotive News Europe.

“You need to connect like hell in an electric vehicle,” he said. “You have busbars. You have connectors that need to have certain specifications. You need high-temperature resistance and flame retardants for cables. You need high temperature resistant shielding for the battery cells and adhesives that are thermo conductive.”

Add to that electromagnetic shielding to protect EV occupants along with all the other electricity and electronics, as well as the navigation system, which still needs to work while there is an electronic magnetic emitter embedded in the car.

“There are a lot of new properties demanded from polymers,” Jung said. “That’s cool for a company that does a lot of innovation.”

In addition to the in-house R&D, BASF works collaboratively with automakers and suppliers to develop the right materials and designs for components and batteries.

“I think we are still very much in the infancy; we see bigger companies with all these gigafactories — Tesla is a frontrunner — but we are still far away from a lot of standardization,” Jung said. “You see totally different designs, models, ideas and technologies. There are a lot of competing ideas still out there. Over the next couple of years, we will see more standardization and then also more efficiency.”

To keep pace with the speed of innovation, BASF has turned to artificial intelligence, machine learning, as well as quantum computing to build expertise and make it accessible in a new way.

“We help our customers design these car pieces, and they need to have a function. They need to have crash absorbance, stiffness and ductility,” Jung said. “Before building it in and also before manufacturing it, we help customers to understand what the best way of molding or pressing it is. We simulate the mechanics of those pieces through computing and simulation.”

Jung said as the industry moves toward standardization, particularly when it comes to batteries, recycling concepts in all materials are likely to take a more prominent role in design and manufacturing.

“This applies not only the battery materials, but also how you how you design the entire battery box, the pouches and everything, how you can dismantle that and then have an efficient recycling later,” he said. “That is something I can fully envision, and we will start to work on that with automaker to think, starting with the design, about recycling solutions.”

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