CooperationCatalysis Laboratory CaRLa: Successful Cooperation Extended

8 December 2023

Heidelberg University and BASF continue research cooperation – One main area of research is the chemical recycling plastic waste

BASF and Heidelberg University will do research together for another five years in the Catalysis Research Laboratory (CaRLa) founded in 2006. The two partners have signed an agreement to this effect, extending their successful research cooperation until 2028. Ten scientists are currently working in the catalysis laboratory to develop new processes for homogeneous catalysis and organic synthesis. One of their main areas of research is the chemical recycling of plastic waste.

In order to use raw materials more efficiently and to reduce the CO2 footprint of products and production processes, research at CaRLa has for several years concentrated on new processes for chemically recycling plastic waste. One example is selectively breaking down polyurethane plastics into re-usable building blocks which can be rebuilt into polymers, i.e. complete plastics. Furthermore, the scientists are working on catalytic systems for the efficient production of bio-based and biodegradable polymers. Since 2015, as many as 18 CaRLa projects have been transferred to BASF research for further development as industrial applications. The work of the catalysis laboratory is also reported in scientific publications; 104 papers have so far appeared in reputable journals. In addition, 41 patent applications have been filed since CaRLa was founded.

On behalf of BASF, Dr Helmut Winterling, BASF Group Research President, welcomes the continuing cooperation, in order “to continue our access to this chemical and technical know-how in the future”. As Vice-Rector Innovation and Transfer of Heidelberg University, Prof. Dr Katja Patzel-Mattern emphasises: “Going beyond the classical partnerships between science and industry, the concept of the CaRLa catalysis laboratory is based on close integration of the research fields. This accelerates the transfer of technology and knowledge into large-scale applications, which is particularly important given that society is facing the challenge of sustainable resource use.” Promoting new talent is another important building block of this cooperation, she adds. The Vice-Rector: “Young researchers benefit from this collaboration within the framework of CaRLa because the knowledge relating to sustainability that they acquire can also be applied in their subsequent careers in industry or academia.” 

Extending the agreement also involves organisational changes at CaRLa. Prof. Dr Thomas Schaub and Dr Jaroslaw Mormul will jointly direct the laboratory on the part of BASF. Alongside Dr Julia Schüller, Vice President Chemicals Research at BASF, Dr Christian Rein will be a new member on the steering committee. Dr Rein heads BASF’s research group on “Homogeneous Catalysis and Acrylics”. From Heidelberg University, the steering committee includes Prof. Dr A. Stephen K. Hashmi from Organic Chemistry as scientific manager and Prof. Dr Peter Comba from Inorganic Chemistry as another member. So far over 100 staff from 34 countries have participated in developing new procedures for homogeneous catalysis and organic synthesis.

CaRLa is an “Industry on Campus” project of Heidelberg University. With these projects – involving strategic research cooperation with companies at the Heidelberg research location and in the region – the university supports the transfer of research results and scientific findings into business and industry. In so doing, it links up its basic research with the application-oriented research of industrial partners, which enables the joint development of technological innovations.

Laboratory equipment in the Catalysis Research Laboratory (CaRLa)