Bioplastic bottle update: Virent, Gevo, Avantium

The blog saw a lot of interests in our post about green PET bottle in March. Fortunately, we seem to have several recent news connecting to renewable-based PET again so let’s analyze some of them here:

The one big news that we have is Virent’s announcement that it was able to produce sugar-based paraxylene (PX) at one of its pilot facility in Madison,Wisconsin. For a 100% bio-PET manufacture, here is a crude flowchart that I made (UPDATED VERSION as of 6/17 thanks to Jim Lunt) on potential bio-based chemicals suppliers within the chain. Of course, there are several other companies out there that are probably developing similar technologies but these are the ones in my radar so far.

Green PET flow chart.PNG

(Yes…I’ve been experimenting with some blogging tools lately as you can see, thanks to ICIS colleague Andy Brice…)

VIRENT ENTERS BIO-CHEM MARKET 

As previously mentioned, I was able to talk to both CEO Lee Edwards and commercial manager Kieran Furlong (who is a former Solazyme employee, according to him) about their sugar-based PX trademarked BioFormPX. The company started working on mixed xylenes development last year and said that it has now successfully produce drop-in bio-PX in pilot scale at its facility in Madison.

As you see in the chart, paraxylene is a direct precursor to terephthalic acid (PTA) production, which accounts for 70% of polyethylene terephthalate’s (PET) monomer component. The other 30% is composed of monoethylene glycol (MEG), where renewable-based alternatives are already available although I am not actually sure who are producers in this area aside from India Glycols and Greencol Taiwan (a new player in this space).

For more information on MEG especially current global supply/demand for petroleum-based MEG, ICIS Chemical Business actually just published an article about it this week (it’s free access!).

Back to Virent, the company is now talking to a number of companies across the PET supply chain from petroleum refiners to branded consumer goods companies for possible partnership and collaboration.

“We are currently in negotiations and putting together a development plan to continue optimizing BioFormPX production with partners,” said Kieran Furlong, Virent’s commercial manager for chemicals. “We will be partner-dependent to produce pilot scale quantities of PX that will ultimately go into demo quantities of PET bottle resin to make the demo bottles. This will most probably be done on our 10,000 gal/year demo plant in Madison.”

Demo campaigns for 100% bio-PET using their PX could start late this year or early 2012. Demo capacity for their PX, according to Furlong, will depend on how much their partners would want to demonstrate.

“If they are just looking to produce sufficient resins to do test runs on PET bottles and show that 100% bio-PET is feasible, that could run in tens of kilograms range, which we can do in our facility. If partners would want to go to pre-commercial launch of products, we’re talking tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of bottles translating to a couple of tons of bio-PX materials. We can also do that in our demo facility plus some additional infrastructure that we would have to put in place.” – Furlong.

Virent intends to have a commercial scale plant commissioned by the end of 2014, location and capacity depending on the partners that they will work with, the amount of PX quantities they will demand, and the feedstock of choice – where location, quantity, availability and economics of their sugar feedstock will greatly determine the scale and location of the commercial plant that they will build.

The company is currently using sugarbeet for their feedstock in Madison mostly because of location and availability although Furlong said they can use any kind of sugar feedstock even cellulosic from wood and corn stover.

Furlong noted that they could be looking at bio-PX capacity at typical range of around 100,000 tonnes/year to as high as 300,000 tonnes/year. Virent is also planning a 20m gal/year (or more) biogasoline commercial production by 2014, where which their bio-PX production will be co-located.

CEO Edwards said they are looking at existing plants and facilities (such as corn wet mill, sugarcane mill or petrochemical plant) where they can integrate their commercial process from a capital efficiency standpoint.

“The fact that we are making the same molecule from renewable feedstock, it means we can use the same logistics, same storage, same pipelines, same distribution without having to keep re-investing in transportation just to get products to market.” – Edwards

In terms of other bio-PX developers, the blog only knows Anellotech in this space although we did mention before that bio-PX can also be produced from dehydration of renewable-based isobutanol (producers include Gevo and Global Bioenergies) as well as synthesis from limonenes, and synthesis from muconic acid (producer in this space include Draths). Muconic acid can serve as direct synthetic intermediates for bio-PTA production via inverse electron demand Diels-Alder reaction with acetylene.

GEVO TO START ISOBUTANOL PRODUCTION

Gevo announced in May 31 that it has begun retrofitting its ethanol facility in Luverne, Minnesota, for 18m gal/year bio-based isobutanol production, which is expected to start in the first half of 2012.

Linked-in discussions are pointing out the possibility of Gevo being involved in bio-PX production via its isobutanol. Another blog reader asked who are the current isobutanol producers looking at the chemical space (since a lot of biobutanol companies seem to be more interested in the biofuel arena). I tried to investigate and just came up with France-based Global Bioenergies.

DuPont, through its Butamax joint venture, is also in the verge of commercializing their bio-isobutanol but Butamax seems to be more interested in biofuel applications from what I’ve heard. I could be wrong on this. In my last interview with Butamax in September last year, the company said it plans to enter commercial scale in the US by early 2013. 

Swiss company Butalco is another bio-isobutanol producer but the company is also expected to focus on the biofuels field.

AVANTIUM RAISES EUR30m FOR PILOT PLANT

The Netherlands-based Avantium announced in June 9 that it was able to raise EUR25m from new investors Sofinnova Partners, Aster Capital and De Hoge Dennen as well as from existing investors Aescap Venture, Capricorn Cleantech Fund, ING Corporate Investments and Navitas Capital.

The company also secured EUR5m subsidy and innovation credit from the Dutch Ministry of Economy, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I).

The funding, according to Avantium, will help construct and operate the company’s 40 ton/year second pilot plant in Geleen, the Netherlands, for production of its platform chemical 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) which will be marketed under the brand name YXY (pronounced ~ ixy).

The blog mentioned in the previous bioplastic bottle post that FDCA monomer can be used to produce Avantium’s polyester PEF (poly-ethylene-furanoate), which can be an alternative to PTA. Avantium said their PEF has already demonstrated superior properties such as barrier properties and ability to withstand heat.

Footnote:

ICIS colleague Mark Victory recently wrote an article on ICIS News (subscription only) about Coca-Cola predicting the commercial possibility of 100% bio-based PET bottle by 2020. Coca-Cola’s director of sustainable packaging Cees Van Dongen presented at the 12th CEE PET and Balkans Markets in Krakow, Poland on May 31.

The blog hopes to hear more updates on bio-PET with the upcoming Bioplastek conference to be held on June 27-29 in New York City. Unfortunately, my travel schedule will not permit me to attend but I am hoping for some reviews — and maybe a couple of presentations to access ;-) — from the organizer itself.

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