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Adidas gets a boost from BASF's expanded TPU foam

By: Frank Esposito

June 25, 2013

LUDWIGSHAFEN, GERMANY — Chemicals giant BASF SE is bouncing toward K 2013 with a host of new products, including the industry's first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane foam.

BASF officials unveiled Infinergy-brand TPU foam at a two-day press event that began June 25 at the firm's headquarters site in Ludwigshafen. The foam already is being used in Energy Boost running shoes launched earlier this year by sportswear leader Adidas.

Infinergy uses particle foam technology to create low bulk weight and good chemical resistance and elasticity, BASF TPU footwear sales leader Martin Vallo said at the event. The foam also has good "rebound performance" and outperforms expanded grades of polyethylene and polypropylene, he added, as well as ethylene vinyl acetate, which often is used as a layer in the soles of running shoes.

Adidas senior innovation director Gerd Manz said at the event that runners want good cushioning in an insole — one that "lands kinetic energy" when landing.

Since commercialized in February, Energy Boost shoes have sold 250,000 pairs, making them one of Adidas' most successful launches, according to Manz.

BASF Vice Chairman Martin Brudermüller also spoke at the event, saying that the firm has benefited from a recent reorganization of its plastics businesses. He added that BASF moving ahead plans to focus on increased applications for wind energy, more use of renewable feedstocks and "using innovation as a driver."

Wind energy use globally is expected to grow 7 percent per year through 2020. And biopolymer production should boom from less thaaan three billion pounds in 2012 to more than 13 billion in 2016.

When asked about the impact of shale gas on the plastics market, Brudermüller confirmed that BASF has considered building a propylene unit in North America, but he added the firm was being cautious.

"We want to take part in [shale gas] development, but you have to be smart," he said. "Just throwing additional volume at the market doesn't seem to make sense."

Brudermüller also highlighted some of BASF's recent growth initiatives, including increasing expanded polystyrene capacity in Ludwigshafen, as well as opening a new plant with almost 700 million pounds of capacity for PU feedstock TDI there in 2014.

Other BASF product launches aimed at the K show include:

  • High-temperature grades of Ultramid-brand nylon for extrusion blow molding applications, such as automotive engine piping.
  • Four new grades of Ultramid for the furniture market, where glass-filled grades can provide durability, stability and good aesthetics.
  • New grades of Ultradur-brand PBT for cables used to house fiber optic wires that allow for faster internet traffic.

BASF ranks as one of the world's largest makers of chemicals, specialty plastics and plastic additives. The firm employs more than 110,000 worldwide and posted sales of almost $94 billion in 2012.