Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), the world’s third-largest chemical company, is betting big on India for research and development and future technology products. Special lightweight thermoplastic materials which are tougher than metal and used to protect electric vehicle batteries, replace heavy metallic structures in automobiles and make ophthalmic lenses and cell phones, are some of the innovations developed by the scientists and engineers at the SABIC Technology Centre in Bengaluru (STC-B).
“SABIC in India is for India and for the world. SABIC Technology Centre in Bengaluru is equipped with some of the most advanced technological systems to drive end to end research over a complete life cycle of a product,” said Janardhanan Ramanujalu, vice president and regional head, South East Asia, Australia & New Zealand, SABIC.
In March this year Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, agreed to buy a 70 per cent stake in SABIC. Saudi Aramco could be valued at up to $1.7 trillion for its upcoming initial public offering this December. “We believe we are the heart of SABIC’s research and development. Through collaboration across geographies – the centre is instrumental in driving value chain for our customers, meeting the needs of the domestic market as well as global,” said Ramanujalu.
For instance, the polycarbonate innovation created at STC-B is an 'amorphous engineering thermoplastics' which offers a unique combination of toughness with exceptional impact strength. It also exhibits high optical clarity and temperature resistance. The key applications of it include automotive headlight lenses, cell phones, LED lighting, ophthalmic lenses, water bottles and houseware.
SABIC is the second-largest polycarbonate producer in the world with 24 per cent market share (with a total capacity of 1.24 million tons per year) in the global market. It has polycarbonate manufacturing facilities in the U.S, Europe and Saudi Arabia.
Also, automotive chassis consists of structural parts such as rails and rockers, which form frames that need to meet crashworthiness requirements such as frontal, side and rollover impacts. The STC-B centre has created a lightweight battery protection solution for electric vehicles. This includes resin-metal hybrid rocker panel reinforced with honeycomb structures which are designed to absorb impact energy. The solution is 40 per cent lighter in weight with similar performance when compared with metal and other conventional solutions.
The hybrid solution made at the centre is also designed to replace heavy metallic structures in the automotive body, which enhances the fuel economy for engines and longer drives with a single charge for electric vehicles. The company said the solution reduces weight by up to 40 per cent, can be compared to high strength steel and is also heat resistant.
The STC-B was established in 2013 with an initial investment of about $100 million and focuses on leveraging India’s research competencies. The facility spread across 45 acres employs around 300 scientists, engineers and designers. “More than 20 per cent of the 400 patents filed globally in the last 4 years, were contributed from India, said Rajeshwer Dongara, site head at STC-B. “SABIC is looking at India for its talent pool,” said Dongara.
The facility has a laboratory to simulate weather and quickly make and test products for all weather conditions. Dongara said the company has formed a group for digitalisation and is using technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and data analytics to make new solutions. “This centre is adding value to that initiative as well,” said Dongara.
The STC-B has also collaborated with other SABIC teams across the globe and developed novel technologies for converting mixed waste plastics to produce feedstock, which is used for high-value chemicals like ethylene, propylene and benzene. SABIC is implementing demo facilities at its European plants to demonstrate these technologies for further scaling to commercial levels.
In India, SABIC operates in six cities – Gurugram, Mumbai, Vadodara, Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune with approximately 600 employees across locations. Through these centres, SABIC serves regional customers across automotive, packaging, building and construction and agriculture industry.