BASF strengthens R&D capabilities with a more powerful supercomputer

Article by Amanda Jasi

BASF’s CTO Melanie Maas-Brunner and Stephan Schenk, product manager for high performance computing at BASF, at the company’s new supercomputer

BASF has started up a new supercomputer at its Ludwigshafen site in Germany, which it says is the largest in the world used for industrial chemical research. The 3-petaflop supercomputer takes over for a 1.75 petaflop predecessor, offering more capacity and computing to allow increasingly complex modelling, virtual experiments, and simulations.

Melanie Maas-Brunner, CTO at BASF, said: “Digital technologies are among the most important instruments to further expand our research and development capabilities.”

She said that these days above average computing is needed to work out the most promising polymer structures from thousands of possibilities. Over the past five years, the 1.75 petaflop supercomputer considerably shorted development times for molecules and compounds, accelerating new products to market. However, its computing power is no longer sufficient, and the complexity of BASF’s research projects had increased the demands on the supercomputer.

The new supercomputer, named Quriosity like its predecessor, is about twice as fast and provides researchers the computing power they need. At the same time, BASF plans to use cloud computing power. Maas-Brunner said the hybrid solution will offer the best possible technical and operational flexibility.

“It allows us to handle requests requiring exceptionally large processing power, as well as work on special tasks that our own supercomputer is not designed for.”

BASF adds that projects outside of R&D will also benefit from the new supercomputer. For example, it can help optimise fluid dynamics of plant components in production operations.

The new supercomputer was manufactured by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and uses a novel warm-water cooling system that absorbs heat where it is generated in the supercomputer and transports it away. The system reduces energy requirements and therefore operating costs.

The 1.75 petaflop Quriosity will be refurbished by HPE and more than 95% of its individual components will be reused. It is expected to be dismantled by the end of the year.

Supercomputers – ‘huge timesavers’

BASF said that as a digital tool, supercomputers are “huge timesavers”, allowing calculations that would have taken about a year in the past, to be carried out in days. The company deployed the former Quriosity in 2017. It carried out an average of 20,000 tasks per day and has been used by more than 400 employees worldwide. BASF used the supercomputer to help identify molecules that could help combat the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Not only has the technology allowed BASF to reduce development times, but it has also informed novel research approaches.

Pointing to specific business benefits, BASF said the distribution of substances and temperature in a reactor can be simulated and the information used to continuously improve production, for example. Additional examples include using simulations to understand product composition and more precisely predict optimal ingredient combinations, and using molecular modelling to identify useful compounds with specific benefits for use.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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