PEF – 100% natural, 100% recycled, 100 % material benefits
Industry and brand manufacturers see great opportunities for new bioplastics
PET made from vegetable raw materials
In 2009 Coca-Cola launched its PlantBottleTM, thus adding popularity to plastic bottles made from renewable raw materials – and indeed doing so in style. Until then such packaging had been no more than a niche product in the relatively manageable bioplastics sector. The plastic material which was used for bottles was primarily polylactic acid (PLA), a raw material which is obtained from maize. However, as there were no readily accessible recycling systems, this material never achieved a breakthrough on the market.
From 30% to 100%. The situation is different for the Coca-Cola PET bottle which is currently made 30 per cent from sugarcane and is fully recyclable. Moreover, Coca-Cola now has a new PlantBottleTM generation, made entirely from renewable raw materials. It was presented by Coca-Cola at Expo 2015 in Milan where it also announced an imminent market launch. In the long term, says a company spokesman, the bio-based materials of this so-called first generation are to be obtained from biomass, such as woodchips.
Another promising natural raw material is currently being studied by researchers in a project at the University of Hohenheim: chicory roots. Until now these roots have been used as input waste material for the production of biogas. Th root vegetable is inedible and constitutes 30 per cent of the entire plant. Scientists are using chicory roots for the extraction of unpurified hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) which is suitable for the production of so-called PEF bottles. According to the university, the first priorities are to ensure the consistent quality of the basic chemicals gained from the chicory roots as well as safe storage, so that industrial production can run continually at full capacity utilisation.
Industry and brand manufacturers can see opportunities for PEF
PEF, which stands for polyethylene furanoate, is made entirely from vegetable raw materials and is also recyclable. It is considered to be the packaging material of the future, particularly for food and beverages. Unlike conventional plastics, it has a greater level of impermeability to carbon dioxide and oxygen, thus ensuring a longer shelf life of packaged products. Another benefit of this new material is its higher resistance to mechanical strain.
This means that packaging can be made thinner, which reduces its weight and the amount of the required packaging material. For quite some time now, since 2013, Coca-Cola, Danone and the Austrian plastic packaging company ALPLA have been contributing to a development platform created by the Dutch company Avantium, using plant sugar for the production of bio-based plastics under so-called YXY Technology®. Recently BASF announced a joint venture with Avantium on the production and marketing of furan dicarboxylic acid (FDCS), a base material for PEF, and the construction of a reference plant with a capacity of up to 50,000 annual tonnes at the BASF compound manufacturing site in Antwerp, Belgium.
The scientists at Stanford University are seeking to move away from sugar, as it is ultimately in competition with agricultural food crops. They have found a way to make the relevant basic material FDCA (furan dicarboxylic acid) from carbonate, CO2 and bio-waste, such as woodchips or grass. The method involves extracting furan-2-carboxylic acid from the plant substance. This is then mixed with caesium carbonate, a carbon-based salt extracted from limestone, and is brought to the melting point, adding CO2. The study says that, after five hours in the oven, 89 per cent of the molten mass has changed into FDCA and can be processed into PEF. What is so special about this process is that it involves using a substantial amount of CO2. The CO2 which is required for production can be obtained, for instance, from the waste gas that occurs at a power station or in industry.