If you're upset by rising energy costs, consider this: When you flip the switch on a light fixture in your kitchen or bedroom, only 5 percent of the current that flows through the circuit produces light.
The remaining 95 percent of the electric current is transformed into heat, which, at least part of the year, must be removed by cooling systems that require even more electricity to operate, notes Stefan Marcinowski.
Marcinowski works for BASF, a company that identifies itself as “The Chemical Company.” But listening to Marcinowski speak at a recent meeting of agricultural and other “green industry” media representatives in Washington, you would think the company logo might be a misnomer.
Although BASF is continuing to turn out new agricultural chemical compounds at a rapid rate — it expects to launch nine new ag products or combinations of products in 2009 — the company is very much into energy, according to Marcinowski, a member of BASF's board of executive directors.
Examples of the incongruities in today's highly energy-driven society abound, he says. Item: Only 15 percent of the total energy use for automobiles is burned in a car's engine. The other 85 percent is consumed getting the gasoline from the oil well to the gas tank.
A soybean is traded an average of 20 times between planting and the time a pig finally eats it. So is a barrel of crude oil, says Marcinowski. With each trade some measure of profit (or loss) is taken.
And major companies, even chemical manufacturers, can curb energy consumption. BASF, for example, has a 3:1 ratio in CO2 balance. “That means that on an annual basis BASF saves three times the carbon dioxide it produces,” says Marcinowski, who is based in Limburgerhof, Germany.
Building insulation is one of four examples that Marcinowski discussed during a presentation at BASF's Innovate 2008 Ag Media Summit in Washington. Insulation products can limit energy consumption for heating and cooling that “otherwise would be going out the window.”
“If you look at the economics, after one year, the total energy which it took you to insulate the home, you have saved,” he said, “because you have used less energy for heating and cooling.”
BASF has developed two insulating foam products, Styropor, which dates back to 1952, and its successor, Neopor, and a new type of sandwich panel coated with polyurethane to help homeowners and business owners conserve energy. (Panels made of Neopor granules are as much as 20 percent thinner than Styropor but have the same insulation value.)
The company is also developing new organic light-emitting devices or OLEDs, products that can be produced as credit card-sized flashlights or windows that can act as transparent light sources at night.
OLEDs are thin, luminous components made of organic semiconductor materials. Despite all the technology they contain, they are no thicker than a plastic film and can be flexibly shaped. This means they offer completely new possibilities for lighting systems: OLEDs can be used as transparent light tiles instead of windows and make curtains shine.
OLEDs are expected to consume only half as much electricity as conventional energy-saving lamps and have a longer life. OLEDs are already being used in car radio displays and cell phones. OLED light tiles, which can replace conventional lamps, are expected to be available beginning in 2011.
Marcinowski said BASF is using this same innovative spirit in researching and developing new agricultural chemicals and technologies.
“When you talk about innovation, you have to talk about the future,” he said. “The future is the time zone where we all will spend the rest of our lives and where the generation that follows us will spend the rest of their lives.
“Without innovation, on the other hand, BASF would not be where we are today. We are the No. 1 chemical company in sales. We have customers in more than 170 countries. We have production sites in 31 countries. And we have 95,000 colleagues who are working with us around the world.”
Some of the company's accomplishments are due to its “verbund” concept, a philosophy in which it uses highly integrated, energy-efficient production to turn out as many chemical products with the same energy as possible. Waste products from one process, for example, often are turned into raw materials for another product.
“This leads to less energy intensity. This leads to improved logistics and all that pays off in less emissions and higher security issues,” said Marcinowski, adding that BASF now had six verbund sites, two in the United States, two in Asia and two in Europe.
“We are not only in the No. 1 position in sales worldwide, but we have also left the competition behind when it comes to R&D. Our expenditure for R&D was 1.4 billion euros in 2007. If you take out the pharmaceutical investment, you can see we have a clear no. 1 position in comparison to our competitors.