Coca-Cola launches project to develop fully plant-based bottle

Jan. 22, 2013

The company is now on a quest to start producing the next generation of its PlantBottle, based entirely on bio-products.

Coca-Cola is now on a quest to start producing the next generation of its PlantBottle, based entirely on bio-products.

In attempt to create a 100 percent renewable paraxylene to turn into plastic bottles, Coca-Cola has started a partnership with three independent biotechnology companies, namely Wisconsin-based Virent, Colorado-headquartered Gevo and Dutch Avantium. Coca-Cola selected them after a detailed two-year research effort and analysis of different technologies by Coca-Cola's R&D team and a technical advisory board, the company explained.

The partnership will look to come up with a cost-effective method to produce paraxylene in large-scale quantities. There are no strict deadlines for the roll-out of the new bottle officially announced, but Coca-Cola hopes that by 2015 it will have opened a new commercial plant for full-scale manufacture of the product.

Rick Frazier, Coca-Cola's vice president of commercial product supply, commented that producing bio-based materials is not new in a lab, but the joint project will be the first to see full-scale global production within "a few years." The project will be a major step toward manufacturing all of the company's plastic packaging from responsibly sourced plant-based materials, Frazier added. The three companies will have to develop all materials in line with all industry recycling requirements, he stated.

Virent CEO Lee Edwards said that the company's patented technology involves catalytic chemistry to turn plant-based sugars into a variety of products identical to petroleum-based materials, including bio-based paraxylene, a key component in producing 100 percent plant-based PET packaging. In his comment on the partnership, Tom van Aken, Avantium CEO, explained that the firm's YXY technology involved in making bio-based polyethylene-furanoate bottles will be used in the process, while Gevo's CEO Patrick Gruber added that paraxylene from bio-based isobutanol will be also used in the process.

Coca-Cola claims that its current PlantBottle is the only fully recyclable PET bottle made with up to 30 percent plant-based material. It was introduced in 2009 and more than 10 billion first-generation PlantBottle packages have already been distributed in 20 countries worldwide. It has two main components: mono-etylene glycol (MEG), which makes up 30 percent of the PET and is already made from plant materials, and purified terephthalic acid (PTA), which makes up the other two thirds. Coca-Cola said that once the project is complete, PTA will be replaced with plant-based materials, too.

At present, PET is the third most widely-produced polymer in the world, after polyethylene and polypropylene. PET makes up about 20 percent of the world's polymer production and about 30 percent of that PET goes into making plastic bottles.