Biochemistry company AVA-CO2 specializes in hydrothermal processes for materials and energetic use of biomass. The Swiss company has its headquarters in Zug and subsidiaries elsewhere in Switzerland and Germany.
Now the company has further developed its patented, water-based process for the bio-based 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) to enable low-cost industrial production. This is a renewable substitute for petro-based raw materials in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and is also the basis for 2,5-Furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA)—and therefore 100 percent bio-based—polyethylene furanoate (PEF) packaging.
A newly developed interface allows the use of different solvents, which are tailored to the oxidation processes for producing FDCA on an industrial scale. This development enables a more flexible implementation of industrial 5-HMF and FDCA production, paving the way for using PEF competitively in applications such as bottles or films for food packaging. As well as targeting bottling or films for food packaging, AVA-CO2 sees additional potential to open up new markets in the cosmetics, personal care, detergent and medical technology industries.
A downstream product of 5-HMF, FDCA is the basis for PEF. Compared to the petroleum-based (and therefore less sustainable) alternative polyethylene terephthalate (PET), PEF has superior product properties: improved gas barrier, higher modulus and a lower melting point. But traditionally, the production of PEF is complicated, and the yellow color has impeded the market growth.
The AVA-CO2 water-based process is scalable and provides the “missing link” for large-scale production of FDCA and PEF. The new development will allow AVA-CO2 to use water as well as other solvents, such as acetic acid, in FDCA oxidation processes based on 5-HMF. The new interface allows the use of 5-HMF as a “drop-in” in purified terephthalic acid (PTA) production plants.
In 2019, AVA-CO2 plans to start production of 5-HMF/FDCA in an industrial production plant with a total annual capacity of 120,000 tons of FDCA. In a first phase starting in 2019, the plant aims to produce 30,000 tons of FDCA to be used for specific PEF applications.
The first PEF products—based on 5-HMF produced by AVA-CO2 subsidiary company AVA Biochem—will be jointly produced and tested with global partners. A first financing round for the plant’s engineering work has been completed, according to Thomas M. Kläusli, chief marketing officer of AVA-CO2.
Elsewhere, Avantium, a Dutch-based company, has developed its YXY technology platform for manufacturing bio-based chemicals, bio-based plastics and biofuels. YXY technology incorporates carbohydrate feedstock, such as corn, sugar and starch. This technology can be used to produce a range of bio-based products, such as polyamides and furanoate compounds at competitive market prices. The company has patented a technology to convert biomass into furanics, which is used to manufacture PEF.
According to market analyst Grand View Research, the global polyethylene furanoate (PEF) market is likely to witness growth in line with increasing consumer preference of eco-friendly products. Increase in expenditure on development of bio-based chemicals is likely to stimulate the market growth.
Europe is likely to be a promising PEF market as a consequence of the popularity of sustainable packaging and stringent regulations toward consumption of non-recyclable plastics. Supportive government policies include the Europe 2020 strategy to promote a bio-economy, which encourages public authorities to shift the preference toward procurement of bio-based products and reduce taxes toward application of bio-based products to member states. In 2012, the European Commission published an action plan on the bio-economy intended to promote production and consumption of bio-based polymers at domestic levels. This plan aims to increase the domestic output level by promoting development of new processes and technologies through enhancing public-private partnerships and financing pilot plants for the production of bio-based chemicals.
Other industry experts, such as Gordon Bockner, president of packaging consultancy Business Development Associates based in Bethesda, MD, believes that the performance advantages of PEF are outweighed by the relative cost and the delay to commercially introduce a 100 percent bio-PET molecule. In answer to the question, “Will Coke no longer use PET for its bottles?”, Bockner concedes that Coca-Cola is considering PEF as packaging for commodity liquid refreshment beverages (LRB), but believes that this is because Coca-Cola does not want to be “left out” if the current position favouring PET should change, and PEF becomes the resin of choice for the manufacture of commodity LRB packaging. Also, at the appropriate time and place, Coca-Cola wants to be able to benefit from the superior gas barrier properties of PEF, particularly with small bottles containing carbonated soft drinks or oxygen-sensitive products.
But overall, Bockner does not expect PET to be replaced by PEF in the foreseeable future.
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