Friday, December 16th, 2011

Coca-Cola Has New Partners to Speed Biobased Bottle Development

The Coca-Cola Company’s December 15, 2011 announcement that it was partnering with and investing in three companies with “breakthrough technology” to hasten development of a fully biobased version of its PlantBottle should be turning heads among the general public and environmentalists. Time will tell if they take notice, but Coke putting its money into sustainability through biosourcing will seem to those in the bioplastics sector as simply a logical step for the beverage giant.

Coca-Cola's PlantBottle

The Coca-Cola PlantBottle is moving faster toward 100% renewably-sourced  bioplastic

Since its introduction in 2009, Coca-Cola says it has distributed more than 10 billion PlantBottle packages in 20 countries around the globe. “While the technology to make bio-based materials in a lab has been available for years, we believe Virent, Gevo and Avantium are companies that possess technologies that have high potential for creating them on a global commercial scale within the next few years,” said Rick Frazier, Coke’s VP of commercial product supply. “This is a significant R&D investment in packaging innovation and is the next step toward our vision of creating all of our plastic packaging from responsibly sourced plant-based materials.”

The labels on Coke’s polyester terephthalate (PET) PlantBottles say “up to 30% made from plants[,] 100% recyclable.” The 30% is basically monoethylene glycol, one of two components of PET and currently biosourced by Coke. Virent (Madison, WI) and Gevo (Englewood, CO) have technologies to create biosourced paraxylene, the other 70% of PET. Virent features catalytic chemistry to turn plant-based sugars into products identical to current petroleum-based products, such as biobased paraxylene that is a “drop-in” replacement for current petro-based paraxylene. Gevo is converting ethanol plants into biorefineries that will turn renewable raw materials into isobutanol, which is used to make paraxylene.

Advantium (Amsterdam, levitra in mexico the Netherlands) says its YXY technology can make chemical building blocks for biobased materials with exceptional properties at a competitive price, and that its lead application, the new PEF material, could become the next generation of biobased plastics for bottles, films and fibers. For the bottle market, better barrier properties are one of the benefits.

Coca-Cola now has three technological avenues toward its stated goal of 100% biobased packaging, and possibly other ways that combine these somehow or are totally different. Above all, it shows a strong determination on the part of the global beverage colossus to reach that goal – and the sooner the better.

Despite Coca-Cola’s explanation of its program at the PlantBottle’s introduction, it was perceived by some consumers and groups as a solution, rather than as an initial step toward a comprehensive use of biobased materials. It’s likely those groups are unaware that many large brand owners are aggressively moving toward being biobased. For example, Coke’s major competitor in beverages, PepsiCo, announced that it has developed a 100% biobased PET bottle using food waste from the company’s other product lines as feedstock. It is scheduled for limited pilot production sometime in 2012 with full distribution coming several years after that.

The Bioplastics Council, a special interest group of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, is helping lead the development of bioplastics. Activity includes educating the plastics industry, government, and the full value chain; articulating clear, consistent descriptions of different bioplastics options; providing strategic advice to plastics industry, government and the full value chain, and promoting harmonization of environmental policies.

As the momentum for bioplastic solutions continues to build, the SPI Bioplastics Council has been expanding its membership, recently with companies such as Merquinsa, RTP Company, and Ecospan, and has also approved UL (Underwriter Laboratories Inc.), a worldwide leader in safety science, as its first associate member.

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