November 30, 2015


BASF: Vitamin boosters and the Verbund approach


The German Verbund industrial system creates efficient value chains that extend from basic chemicals right through to value-added products such as BASF's vitamins for animal nutrition, which are becoming increasingly relevant to livestock production.


by Ngai Meng CHAN


2015 marks the 150th anniversary of BASF. The Group's 150-year history shows that chemistry is an enabler for new ideas and solutions. Additionally, its unique Verbund infrastructure intelligently links the BASF production plants and resources to maximise raw material utilisation and minimise energy use. It is not coincidental that the majority of vitamins like vitamin E, A, calcium pantothenate (B5) and choline chloride are today part of BASF's vitamin product line for animal nutrition.


BASF has a particular strength in vitamins that are integral to the Verbund system. As the world's largest chemical company, BASF is one of the few producers that manufactures internally most of its vitamin intermediates along the value chain. The vitamin B2 product Lutavit® B2 SG 80 is manufactured at the largest fermentation site of BASF, in Gunsan, Korea.


"For this reason, our production processes are among the most efficient ones in the industry," says Christian Nitschke, Head of Animal Nutrition North America, BASF.  Therefore it is of little surprise then that the vitamins A, E, B2 and Calpan (B5) of the company's Lutavit® vitamin product range are best-selling.


But it is not just about efficiency. Nitschke notes that although the quality of some of the emerging market suppliers has improved recently, the feed industry still looks at aspects relating to vertical integration, supply chain, traceability and sustainability to differentiate between suppliers.


"Quality, reliability, traceability and product performance are key in terms of our value proposition. BASF produces high quality vitamins that are pure, reliable, and stable. A good example is our vitamin B2 that we produce with our fermentation technology based on our unique production strain Ashbya gossypii (a filamentous fungus)," Nitschke highlights.
Ashbya gossypii

Contrary to what some in the industry may believe, the demand for vitamins is one of the most stable among feed additives, since vitamins are critical nutrients for livestock and poultry production, are not replaceable by co- and by-products, and are used in micro-quantities per tonne of feed, Nitschke explains.


"We work closely with customers to make sure they have an up-to-date global view, and we optimise the supply chain and inventories," Mike Coelho, Global Technical Product Manager, Animal Nutrition, BASF adds.


Indeed, BASF places much emphasis on servicing its customers at the local level. In North America for example, where the market is highly consolidated, a dedicated team of marketing, technical marketing, customer services and sales staff provide services directly targeted at feed manufacturers. With some large customers the company collaborates with computer-linked order entry systems and provides quarterly global market updates. In addition, BASF's SET - applied sustainability™ initiative targets to support customers to improve the sustainability profile of their processes and products, e.g. with regard to environmental, economic and social aspects.


"BASF sells directly to customers that purchase straight (pure) vitamins in the feed manufacturing and petfood segments, and uses premix partners to reach premix and smaller straight customers," Coelho says.


"We expect that the feed market will be growing in the future and with it the demand for vitamins. Global feed tonnage of 1,250 million tonnes continues to increase (0.7%/year), especially in emerging markets of Asia (0.7%/year) and South America (1.5%/year). North America has a total feed tonnage of 208 million tonnes.


BASF has strategically built up its market position for their vitamins over the years, and is strongly committed to its further development. An example is the expansion of the vitamin A production at Ludwigshafen, Germany in early 2015. However, in general, we follow the average global feed growth rate of 0.5-1%/year," Nitschke elaborates.


BASF also continues to research the vitamin needs of modern livestock and poultry production. Of particular research interest for the company are the changes in grain composition, growth-associated animal stress, and consumer demand for wholesome meat containing vitamins.


Coelho cites the changes in nutrient composition in corn over the years. "Corn yield has been growing at a rate of 1.5%/year. Corn breeding companies achieve this goal by increasing starch by 0.03%/year, while all other components decline at the same rate or higher. Starch content is the only grain composition trait closely correlated with yield. For example, over the last 80 years, starch increased from 67 to 70%, while protein declined from 13.5 to 7% (Scott, 2006). This trend is expected to continue and by 2050 corn is projected to have 72% starch and 5% protein. Amino acids, vitamins, etc. have been declining at the same rate. Therefore, feedstuff vitamin content should decreasingly be part of standard feed formulation, increasing the need for vitamin fortification," Coelho predicts.


Apart from changes in grain composition, competitive meat, milk and egg production requires constant adjustment in inputs, especially if outputs are constantly changing. "For example, as grain vitamin content has been decreasing over the last 80 years, broiler weight increased from 1.3 to 2.8 kg and is expected to reach an average of 4.5 kg by 2050. Weight-adjusted feed conversion ratio (FCR) over the last 80 years decreased from 4.7 to 1.54, equivalent to a 200% decline in FCR. Weight-adjusted FCR is projected to decline a further 20% by 2050. However, the long vitamin metabolic pathway has not improved in conversion rates, meaning that broilers today need 200% more vitamins per unit of feed, than they did 80 years ago, and need another 20% more by 2050. One should keep in mind that broiler breeding companies focus on energy and amino acid conversion efficiency, not that of vitamins," Coelho explains.


Many trials have demonstrated a high correlation between production stress and vitamin fortification needs for optimum animal production. A case in point is segregated early weaning in swine production. Several studies have indicated that these piglets are highly stressed and their nonspecific immune system is so depressed that they are extremely susceptible to infections. These piglets need on average 470% greater vitamin E and B supplementation (Stahly, 1995) to neutralise the depression in nonspecific immune system.


And for dairy production, over the last 80 years, milk production per cow has increased by 262%, according to Coelho. Milk production is continuing to increase at a rate of 1%/cow/year. 


The nonspecific immune system is depressed during the peripartum period and cows are extremely susceptible to intramammary gland infections. Several studies have concluded that vitamin supplementation eliminated the depression in neutrophil function associated with parturition (giving birth). 


"As milk production per cow increases, higher levels of vitamin E supplementation are required to eliminate the depression of neutrophil function. In 1995, with an average milk production of 8878 kg/cow, 1000 U vitamin E/cow/day were required to neutralise the depression in neutrophil function (Weiss, 1989). In 2015 it requires 2000 U/cow/day to neutralise the depression in neutrophil function. That is, an average of 0.5 U vitamin E per kg of milk increase. By 2050 cows will require an average of 2000 U/cow/day more, or a total of 4000 U/cow/day to eliminate the depression of neutrophil function," Coelho explains.


Despite already being a world-leading producer of vitamins for animal nutrition, BASF is not complacent. "BASF analyses both internal Verbund trends and external markets and trends on a regular basis for opportunities in animal nutrition. We already offer some of the highest quality products of the industry. Nevertheless, we are constantly working on ensuring a continuous quality improvement," Nitschke says.
The heart of BASF Group is BASF SE headquartered in Ludwigshafen, Germany. With about 250 production plants, several hundred laboratories, technical centres, workshops and offices, it is the largest integrated chemical complex in the world.