One of the more unusual aspects of the sustainability drive in the plastics industry (see NPE Sustainability article this month) is the way giant beverage companies are taking an active role in spurring development of biobased plastics for bottles. The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has for two years now marketed water and soft drinks in the Plant-Bottle, a PET bottle made of 30% plant-based renewable material (monoethylene glycol made from sugarcane ethanol). Now it is joining PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., in a race for a 100% biobased PET bottle. PepsiCo announced in March that it would start pilot production this year. Last month, Coca-Cola unveiled multi-million-dollar partnerships with three firms to develop different routes to 100% renewable PET bottles.
•Virent, Inc., Madison, Wis., will scale up its new catalytic conversion process to convert sugars, starches, and cellulosic agricultural waste into paraxylene, the key ingredient for purified terephthalic acid (PTA), which makes up 70% of the PET molecule.
•Gevo, Inc., Englewood, Colo., will scale up its new fermentation technology for converting sugars, starches, and cellulosic materials into isobutanol, which can in turn be converted into paraxylene for PTA.
•Avantium in The Netherlands (avantium.com) will work to commercialize its “next-generation polyester” for packaging, polyethylene furanoate (PEF). This 100% biobased material uses a new catalytic process to turn plant sugars into furanics, which can then be combined with biobased MEG to make PEF. This resin is said to have 10° C higher glass-transition temperature (Tg) than PET, along with twice the moisture barrier, three times the CO2 barrier, and six times the oxygen barrier. Avantium started up a PEF pilot plant on Dec. 8.
Coca-Cola’s Rick Frazier, vp of commercial product supply, says the market is big enough to support these alternate routes to 100% renewable PET, and the different technologies will each have to prove its technical and economic viability on a commercial scale. He said Coca-Cola’s plan is to launch a 100% biobased PlantBottle by 2015 or sooner.