The product sets a new standard in providing a unique bundle of outstanding properties that lead to added value for tanners and benefits for the environment. Eusapon OD is a universal and high-performance degreasing agent for leather and woolskins. It can be applied at all stages of production for soaking, liming, deliming and degreasing.

BASF are so proud of their breakthrough that they held a press conference in Ludwigshafen to unveil their new degreasing agent (page 36). At the start of the conference, Dr Wolfgang Büchele, president of the operating division Performance Chemicals, said that they work alongside customers as partners to improve economic efficiency, ‘making the products of our customers’ customers even better and more innovative.’ In Büchele’s opinion, BASF’s know-how network (Verbund) makes them an ideal partner for innovative applications and problem solutions.

Dr Michael Hepp, head of the global business unit Performance Chemicals for Leather, stressed the various efforts of BASF to stand firm and prosper in the leather industry, despite difficult market conditions. ‘Whatever changes we and our customers are faced with in the market, we will continue to focus on reliability and close partnership with our customers. Our active measures and our innovative power justify a positive view of the future.

Hepp then took a look at the total leather chemicals market, pointing out areas of growth, stagnation and decline (see Figures 1-3). Looking at influences on leather business in recent years, he pointed to the ongoing shift of finished leather production from the US and western Europe to Asia and South America, especially to China and Brazil.

There is a consolidation/contraction of the tanning industry in the US and western Europe and an increasing globalisation of the bigger tanneries which began in the automotive leather sector and is now also occurring in the shoe upper leather segment. Higher specialisation, increased flexibility and smaller order volumes are the order of the day while constantly increasing environmental and toxicological requirements pose a growing challenge. He predicted a 5% annual growth rate in automotive leathers.

Dr Tilman Taeger, head of Basic Innovation and Technologies for Leather, presented an update of the latest developments in the EU legislation. New legislation which is on its way will have a major impact on the European tanning industry and the future ban on the use of nonylphenolethoxylates is just one of a number of future changes the industry must come to terms with.

Nonylphenolethoxylates biodegrade easily, forming free nonylphenols. Branched nonylphenols have pronounced aquatic effects so a substitute must be found. Germany is already well advanced along this road, a number of chemical associations having voluntarily agreed to phase out the use of nonylphenol-based chemicals as surfactants by 1992.

In October 2002, nonylphenolethoxylates were classified as a priority hazardous substance in the EU on the basis of a UK risk assessment. July 2003 saw the publication of an EU directive on the marketing of nonylphenols and their ethoxylates with regard to a number of applications including leather processing, all of which ultimately end up in municipal wastewater systems.

The ban on NP/NPEs in member states will become effective on January 17, 2005. It is already banned in Norway and Switzerland prohibits the use in washing powders and formulations. Despite no clear action outside Europe, it is believed that many countries will follow EU legislation once it is in place. North America is currently evaluating NPEs under TSCA regulation and Canada is also working on NP/NPE restrictions.

BASF have been adapting their surfactants for the leather industry since 1985 in accordance with the voluntary ban on NP/NPEs as proposed by Tegewa and VCI in Germany.

Numerous trials were performed on different classes of alcohols in order for the cost/performance ratio of NPEs to be matched.

It was not until a new C10 alcohol was developed that the target was reached. Further work eventually led to Eusapon OD and this was the subject of a presentation by Dr Gunther Pabst, Basic Innovation and Technologies for Leather, and Philippe Lamalle, head of Product Management Beamhouse, which is published on the next page.

* BASF had sales of about €32 billion (circa $34 billion) in 2002 and over 89,000 employees worldwide. At their Ludwigshafen site on the Rhine, they operate the world’s largest integrated chemical complex, which is also the headquarters of the BASF Group and the Performance Chemicals operating division.

BASF’s Performance Chemicals portfolio is spread over six business units, supplying primarily twelve different branches of industry. The six business units are: Performance Chemicals for leather; for coatings, plastics and specialities; for the printing industry; for the automotive and oil industry; for detergents and formulators; and for textiles.

Ludwigshafen is impressive. The BASF site is a city within a city which has grown up around them. It occupies 7km of river frontage along the Rhine and features two power stations of its own with a third due on stream in 2005.

There is a railway line bringing freight into the site which also provides two passenger stations (north and south) and twelve passenger trains each morning and evening. This means that BASF have the advantage of rail, road and river access, not forgetting the pipeline from Siberia which brings gas to the site with surplus sold through a network of pipelines to other parts of Germany. 36,000 bicycles are needed to enable workers to get around the site and there is also a medical centre with 24 doctors plus other staff.

A new, totally automated container plant was opened this year which enabled them to vacate 40 leased warehouses in Mulheim, making them even more self-sufficient. However, the site is now full so any future development will require demolition of older buildings to make way for the new.

Originally named Badischen Anilin & Soda-Fabrik, indigo was the first product ever developed but the importance of some other chemicals are reflected by street names such as ammonia and methanol (Ammoniakstraße and Methanolstraße).