Battle of the bioplastic bottle

I am still working on the Weekly News Roundup but in the meantime there is an interesting and very lively discussion going on in one of LinkedIn’s group that I joined regarding PepsiCo’s recent announcement of its plans to use 100% plant-based polethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle.

PepsiCo said that its “green” bottle is made from raw materials such as switch grass, pine bark and corn husks. In the future, the company expects to expand its raw material sources such as orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agricultural food by-products.

Pepsico plans to pilot produced the new bottle next year and intends to move directly to full-scale commercialization once the pilot scale is successfully operated.

Now, I think the key words here are “combining biological and chemical processes.” PET is basically made from 15-30% ethylene glycol (MEG) and 70% terephthalic acid (TPA). Recalling Coca-Cola’s Plant Bottle, their EG component is made using sugarcane-based ethylene while the TPA part is still petrochemical-based. 

Coca-Cola said at that time that in the long term, it plans to also use non-food waste such as wood chips, wheat stalks to produce their Plant-Bottle. I asked somebody from Pepsico last year (where we were both attending a conference) why the company has not made any launch like that of Coca-Cola’s Plant Bottle. He said the company does not want to start making something that uses just very minimal renewable-based materials. The official did admire Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy in promoting the Plant Bottle.

Last week, Coca-Cola partnered with food company H.J. Heinz in producing Heinz ketchup bottles using Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle packaging. Heinz planned to globally convert to the PlantBottle packaging starting this summer.

Now, if EG can already be made 100% plant-based, who is producing 100% bio-based TPA, how is it being produced in order to get 100% renewable-based PET like what PepsiCo has, and at what cost and scale? That is the major question posted by Jim Lunt on the Linked In group Bio-based Chemicals – Grow the Industry.

One theory is that the EG portion is the one with the biological process and TPA can be produced using a thermochemical route maybe such as biomass-to-syngas.  Lunt noted companies who are interested in producing bio-based TPA such as Gevo (isobutanol to paraxylene to TPA), Draths (TPA from muconic acid), Anellotech (biomass to BTX, xylenes to TPA), and Avantium (furan dicarboxylic acid -FDCA- as a replacement for purified terephthalic acid -PTA).

There was also a link about TPA being produced through synthesis of limonenes or D-fructose. As far as Lunt was concerned, none of the technologies he mentioned are close to being commercial (but he said he could be wrong).

Unfortunately I am not an expert with TPA chemistry but I do know that Avantium is already planning to replace PET with its PEF (not sure what this stands for… polyethylene furanics???) which is composed of bio-based EG and its FDCA-based TPA alternative. The company said so during their presentation at the recent Infocast Biobased Chemicals Summit (which I was unable to attend as my attention was caught in another presentation in a different room).

I do have Frank Roerink’s (Avantium’s CFO) contact information so I’ll definitely send him an email soon. The process technology for Avantium’s FDCA involves a catalytic chemical process that uses C6 and C5 sugars from non-food biomass as feedstock. Carbohydrates of the biomass are dehydrated to produce 5-HMF derivatives, called RMF. Catalytic oxidation of RMF produces the 2,5-Furan-dicarboxylic-acid (FDCA).

According to Roerink’s presentation, the price for petroleum-based PTA (which is a key building block for PET) was$1,500/ton while their FDCA (which is a key building block for their PEF) is less than EUR1,000/ton.  In terms of performance, their PEF is said to have similar or better properties compared to PET and it’s also recyclable.

Avantium is further enhancing the color, molecular weight and bottle design of its PEF plastic. The company plans to have a demonstration plant of around 200-400 ton/year for its FDCA in 2012-2013 and an industrial plant with capacities between 30,000 and 50,000 tons/year is expected by 2015.

Roerink said it plans to partner with consumer goods manufacturers for commercializing PEF applications in bottles (could it be PepsiCo??), green packaging materials, green diapers and green carpets and textiles. Avantium’s 20-40 ton/year pilot plant at Chemelot, the Netherlands, is expected to come onstream this year.

As like any other interested followers of this exciting bioplastic industry, the green blog hopes to get more insight soon on the who’s, what’s and how’s regarding PepsiCo’s 100% green PET bottle so I don’t have to resort to pure speculation = ).

[Aerial view of Avantium's pilot facility in the Netherlands]

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4 Responses to Battle of the bioplastic bottle

  1. Jim lunt 22 March, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    HI Doris –Thanks for the review, indeed the announcement by PepsiCo has fueled a lot of speculation. Re Avantium, as you mention, they do not make PET or TPA but a potential replacement. The terephthalate component of PET is replaced by the FDCA to produce a polyester which is 100% renewable and has similar properties and potentially much improved barrier properties and economics over PET. I do not believe this activity is being actively considered for bottles today, due to potential concerns over “contamination” of the PET recycle stream, whereas a fully biobased PET is chemically identically to existing PET and so such a concern does not exist. Initially, in other applications though, where recycling is not a concern, this technology shows significant promise and ultimately may be a viable replacement for PET if the recycling contamination concerns are addressed. I have attached my summary of what I believe are the potentially viable options to make the TPA on slide share for those who are not members of linked in. see
    Best regards and keep up the good work.

  2. Jim Lunt 22 March, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Hi Doris,
    Agree these are exciting and changing times for the fledgling Bioplastics Industry.

    Re why would you want renewable resource based PET, since it’s recycled anyway?

    I think if one can show a better environmental impact for plant based products and simultaneously reduce our dependence on oil, plus really be able to recycle the products then this is an overall win. Unfortunately the reality today is renewable does not always mean more sustainable. Plastics consume overall around 4% of all oil globally and recycling in the USA for PET is now at an average of 28% only, and this varies significantly from state to state. Also many plastic products are still never recycled.

    So every step is potentially a plus but we have a long way to go before we really can say that we are truly more sustainable. I guess the journey will be long but is worth the effort
    Best regards

  3. Frank Roerink 5 April, 2011 at 3:54 am #

    Dear Jim, dear Doris,

    Thanks for providing a good overview of the recent developments in this very exciting space. One remark I would like to make is that we have done ASTM tests of adding PEF to the PET recycle stream. The results have confirmed that there is no impact on the recycled PET products. We believe that this is another important marker of the potential of our YXY technology for making 100% biobased and 100% recyclable bottles.

    Frank Roerink
    CFO Avantium

  4. Doris de Guzman 16 April, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the clarification! I just checked my email and my ICIS colleague John Baker who recently hosted a Biobased Chemicals Roundtable in Amsterdam told me about their discussion on the PepsiCo announcement as well. Somebody from the Roundtable dug a little deeper and told John that Pepsico is taking the isobutanol to PX route.

    Like what you’re saying about the PET recycling stream concerns, John said most of the panelists just wondered why PepsiCo is even doing this given that PET is eminently recyclable anyway.

    Definitely exciting times for the bioplastic industry I think =)

    Best Regards,

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