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How BASF Innovations Create Safety Shoes that Last

No matter the industry or job requirements, safety shoes have to perform. Whether they are helping workers stay comfortable and covered in extreme climates or being worn indoors for protection, this footwear is put to the test.

Without the right materials, on-the-job stressors—including exposure to heat and humidity—would shorten the lifespan of these shoes. Safety shoe materials are required to have anti-hydrolysis properties to prevent water-caused chemical breakdowns, but chemical company BASF has invested in innovation to create “super anti-hydrolysis solutions” that also provide solid comfort and safety properties.

For instance, one of BASF’s more recent developments is Elastopan, a polyurethane foam that is ideal for midsoles, outsoles and insoles. The standard material resists abrasion and hydrolysis, but it can be imbued with added resistance against oil and gasoline. Elastopan has millions of tiny air bubbles, contributing to its lightweight yet high-performance properties as well as strong durability and comfort. The foam is versatile, since it can be used in injection molds and casting machines. Additionally, the sky is the limit for product design since Elastopan can be made in almost any color or texture.

BASF’s Elastollan TPU is similarly lightweight yet durable. It’s also versatile, since it can be made softer for cushioning components like insoles or harder for other footwear parts such as soles and heels. For safety styles, anti-static agents can be added to the polymer to prevent an electrical charge buildup in wearers.

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“Our leading position in safety footwear is largely driven by the continuous R&D investments we commit to develop polyurethane safety shoe solutions,” said Mohnish Hasrajani, marketing manager for footwear and digitalization Asia Pacific at BASF Performance Materials Asia Pacific. “Our teams are most excited when they get an opportunity to work with the customers either by solving their problems or co-creating exclusive solutions to support their new product launches.”

Facilitating this collaboration, BASF has established creation centers around the world that enable customers to come explore its products in person. Here, BASF can give clients design direction and build prototypes. “This total solutions approach has proven extremely successful in addressing the needs of our customers while pushing the innovation envelope,” Hasrajani said. “We believe this is the main reason why our customers continue to place trust in us and enjoy working with BASF.”

As an example of its co-creation, BASF worked with Argentina-based brand Maincal on its Voran SportSafe line of comfort safety shoes for workers in the automotive, food, logistics and other industries. This series used Elastopan within the Ultragrip Sole technology that prevents slips and falls, and the midsole was made of BASF’s Infinergy, an expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (E-TPU) that provides strong rebound for comfort and performance.

In another brand partnership, BASF worked with Timberland PRO to infuse the label’s Reaxion safety shoe with its Aerocore Energy System. This solution is comprised of Elastollan in the outsole for traction and Elastopan in the midsole and insole for comfort and support.

“We wanted to give workers a new experience: a safety shoe that is just as comfortable and appealing as their favorite athletic shoes, but provides the energy return needed to keep them going during the workday,” said Bert Spiller, vice president product creation at Timberland PRO. “We needed help to make that happen, and BASF was the right partner for the job.” 

Safety meets sustainability

Inevitably, there comes a point where footwear can no longer fulfill its function, and retiring and replacing worn-out work shoes is a matter of safety since performance properties decline. In an ideal world, shoes would never end up in a landfill. BASF and a growing number of brands in the industry are investigating circular solutions for shoes and designing and developing products using materials that can more easily be recycled.

However, there is still work to be done. “Recycling requires an ecosystem to be set up with efficient value chains that can bring the shoes back for recycling,” said Hasrajani. “This requires coordinated efforts from the partners across the value chain, and BASF continues to lead this dialog on behalf of the industry.”

Until circularity matures, BASF’s focus is on durability by using high-quality inputs. Keeping shoes in use for longer extends the ecological impact over time while also reducing the number of shoes that must be produced and the volume of shoes in landfills. BASF’s super anti-hydrolysis materials can keep work shoes working up to four more years than conventional footwear.

“We continue to conduct research on the end use environments of safety shoes to understand how the working conditions impact the shoe life and then innovate to develop a solution that can sustain those environments,” Hasrajani said.

Click here to learn more about BASF.