Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Thomas Birk, Vice President BASF UK & Ireland
30 August 2023
Associate Feature: Making a Global Impact from the Isle of Lewis

BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd is a small pharmaceutical manufacturing site located on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. It is one of six BASF manufacturing sites in the UK.

Partner content

Associate Feature: Making a Global Impact from the Isle of Lewis

Set in the stunning landscape of Breasclete on the Isle of Lewis, BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd is an exciting example of high-tech innovation. Since its acquisition in 2012 by global chemical company BASF, the research and production facility has seen an impressive programme of investment and growth.  

“In 11 years of BASF ownership, our site at Callanish has grown from just 35 people to around 80 employees,” explains Thomas Birk, Vice President BASF UK & Ireland. “And, supported for many years by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), we have seen the addition of expanded warehousing and infrastructure, including improved Research and Development facilities, allowing us to meet increasing market demand.”

The company is a global leader in manufacturing highly concentrated Omega-3 fatty acids, which are used in pharmaceutical, clinical nutrition, and general nutritional applications. “Innovation has always been key to BASF’s success and we are a pioneer in the field of Omega-3 fish oils,” Thomas continues. “We have developed state-of-the-art, patented processes and produce pharmaceutical grade products, with purities of more than 95% from our FDA-approved facility in Scotland. Our active ingredient is sold across the globe, with our primary markets being USA and Asia and our licensed products are supplied to pharmaceutical companies who encapsulate our material into drug products.” 

The manufacture at Callanish plays an integral part in BASF’s Omega-3 production process. Thomas explains, “We have two manufacturing sites producing our Omega-3 oils – Callanish and Sandefjord, Norway - ensuring we can offer a wide portfolio of products to the pharmaceutical and nutrition industries. An interesting feature of our manufacturing is what we affectionately call our mini ‘Verbund’, essentially an efficient production process with a high utilisation of the raw material where by-products are converted into value-added materials, leaving very little waste. Fish oils sourced from well-managed and certified fisheries are processed at our plant in Sandefjord. Through several purification steps, impurities are removed to produce highly concentrated products. This intermediate is then used by the team at our Callanish site to make the final, high-purity product.” 

The knowledge and expertise required for this innovative manufacturing process provide a unique opportunity for employment to this community, a community to whom the BASF team are passionate about making a positive difference, both as an employer and as a neighbour. “Our team works hard to support science in the local community. Inspiring and encouraging young learners to fall in love with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, in particular chemistry, is vital for us as an organisation,” Thomas proudly explains. “BASF has a long-standing commitment of engaging schools close to our sites with STEM activities, as we believe building scientific skills and supporting STEM education is key towards developing a future skilled workforce. This can be particularly effective in smaller, rural communities and our Callanish team’s commitment to their community is strong.” 

Encouraging and inspiring our employees of the future
“Building on this well-established and continuing engagement, we have sought the expertise of educators to help us design a site-based STEM education package which we call ScienceXperience. Following several years of development and operating the programme across a couple of other BASF sites across the UK, Professor Leigh Hoath, science education lead at Leeds Trinity University, has enabled us to provide an impactful science experience for young learners aged 9 to 11. By coming to our site, seeing the workings of our plant and research laboratories and talking with our employees, children can visualise science as a career. The beauty of our specially designed programme is that it is run by our passionate and dedicated employees. Breaking down myths that science is out of reach, our set of experiments relevant to our production processes on site, illustrate to pupils that chemistry is very much a valuable and exciting career opportunity. The session can also give confidence to teachers of primary science and enable them to explore a curriculum-relevant topic in an industrial environment. During the last academic year, as we were introducing the programme, we were able to host around 130 young learners from 7 local schools over 8 sessions. This year our STEM volunteers at Callanish are looking to build on that success and reach more schools, with the ambition of engaging with every primary school on the island. With the link to the Curriculum for Excellence, this is a tremendously exciting initiative that should have meaningful impact in the region. There is no doubt in my mind that this kind of programme will encourage and inspire employees of the future and this is something our team is keen and well-placed to address within the immediate local community and across the Isle of Lewis.”

Recent investment and valued partnership
As the operation has grown, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has supported with the development and infrastructure of the site. “Recent investments and the support we have received from HIE have enabled us to secure highly skilled and high-quality jobs at the site. The partnership with HIE is something we really value and the site has benefitted from the warehousing expansion and the increase in our production capabilities.” 

The site is also committed to sustainable manufacturing and purchases only renewable energy. “Our site at Callanish is a low-carbon facility and will be contributing to BASF Group’s sustainability goals,” explains Thomas. “BASF has committed to reducing its absolute CO2 emissions by 25% by 2030 compared to 2018, which is ambitious as we want to continue to grow our business at the same time.  As one of the world’s largest chemical companies, we are committed to living up to our responsibility and are leading the transformation of our entire industry. The company has set transparent and realistic targets that by 2050, we want to achieve net-zero emissions. Our Callanish site has also identified ambitious aspirations to further reduce its own carbon footprint as we look to transition to net zero CO2 emissions.”

“In this respect, access to affordable and reliable renewable electricity, as well as support for energy efficiency, are key areas that need to be carefully considered.

Looking ahead, our Callanish site’s success illustrates that with the right collaboration between government and industry it is possible to build innovative and thriving businesses that create opportunities for the local community, even in the most remote and rural parts of our country. Such examples of collaboration need to grow even stronger and be replicated across key industries so that we can deliver against our net zero goals and take advantage of our green growth commitment.”

This article is sponsored by BASF

For further information


Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top