Coca-Cola bottlers aim to develop technology to capture CO2 and convert it into sugar
EXCLUSIVE: Coca-Cola’s largest bottling firm has announced plans to explore and scale methods to capture carbon and covert it into key materials for its products, including sugar and plastics.
In 2020, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) committed to reducing net emissions across its value chain by 30% by 2030, before bringing them to net-zero by 2040. At the time, CCEP said in a statement that it is ready to go further and faster after reducing value chain emissions by 30.5% since 2010.
Going further and faster has seen its Ventures arm (CCEP Ventures) collaborate with the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) to explore novel methods of capturing carbon and then using it as a feedstock.
Speaking exclusively with edie, Craig Twyford, Head of CCEP Ventures, stated that this project (which will originally last three years) would enable the firm to support scientists and experts to hopefully deliver a viable, onsite method to capture carbon emissions from facilities and then use them in products in a bid to drive down emissions.
“I think this is incredibly exciting,” Twyford told edie. “It’s a big picture idea, but if we start thinking of carbon as not just a problem but also as a feedstock, then there’s a lot of things we can start to change.
“The way I envisage it, but obviously there’s many twists and turns along the way, is that we’d ideally be able to fit direct air capture units to each of our sites that draws down the carbon in a cost-effective and efficient way. The biggest impact will probably be if we can use this to carbonate our drinks and produce sugar, but it could have impact elsewhere.”
CCEP is financing the three-year research programme that will be led by the Peidong Yang Research Group at the University of California, Berkeley, which will first and foremost focus on the production of sugar from onsite carbon at an industrial scale. CCEP and Twyford believe that lab-scale prototypes could be the first step in making raw materials and packaging more sustainable and with a lower carbon footprint in the long run.
Sugarcane is not only the source of most of the world’s sugar, but is also the most produced food crop in the world. Sugarcane production has increased by more than 10% in the last 10 years with the crop now being utilised outside of the food space, namely in the creation of biofuels and controversial bioplastics.
Research from food analytics company Spoonshots found that the average water footprint used to produce 1kg of refined sugar is the equivalent of two years of drinking water for one person. Additionally, firms like British Sugar have calculated that 0.6g of CO2 equivalent is produced for every gram of sugar made.
As the population continues to grow, land becomes more contested and forests burned down for agricultural processes, it is clear that innovating the agri-sector is key to combatting key megatrends like land loss and degradation, deforestation and the climate crisis.
For companies like CCEP, agricultural ingredients, including sugar, can account for around 25% of the firm’s overall carbon footprint. Tackling emissions associated with agri-ingredients will be key to reaching net-zero.
Twyford points out that this innovation could also assist in reducing “some of the largest carbon contributors” across the value chain, namely by saving on raw and finite materials for things like packaging – by turning carbon into PET plastic and reducing the need for crude oil – and fuel and reducing transportation and logistics costs due to the onsite aspect of the project.
Supply chain innovation
Given that the majority of CCEP’s Scope 3 emissions are in the supply chain, the company is aiming to help all of its strategic suppliers set science-based targets and transition to 100% renewable electricity. For ingredient and packaging-related emissions, the company will accelerate plans relating to sustainable agriculture and 100% recycled plastics. Some life-cycle analyses have found that soft drinks bottles made using 100% post-consumer-recycled plastic generate 40% less CO2e than virgin plastic bottles.
Twyford stated that this innovation would likely have the biggest impact on its Scope 3 aspirations, but that there were still plenty of challenges to overcome.
“There are some hurdles but it think [the research team] can overcome them,” Twyford said. “The challenges are around selectivity and efficiency and creating the right glucose. So the first three years will be seeing how these challenges can be overcome. But [the team] has a roadmap for this and 2025 will come around quickly, at which point we’ll start asking ‘where do we go from here’?”
While the success of the initial research hinges on overcoming barriers, the long-term ambition for this project is scalability. Twyford believes that having an organisation as large as CCEP, which serves 1.75 million customers across 29 countries, will create some confidence in the carbon capture market which, to date, has looked at larger projects between a cluster of organisations and sites.
Crucially, CCEP believes that this vision could be shared across the industry, helping other firms to decarbonise at a pace on the road to net-zero.
“Everyone needs to learn off everyone,” Twyford said. “So if these direct air capture systems can really be used to help us view carbon as a valuable feedstock then this can be a solution that will help a lot of industries. I think these types of solutions will be industry-wide eventually.
“For us, we think that if we can take on a leadership role to back this, then others may look at us and view this as something that is serious and can be scaled.”
CCEP is not the only firm with this view. Carpet manufacturer, Interface, for example i forging ahead with its Climate Take Back strategy, which is also filled to the brim with moonshot goals. It focuses on “bringing carbon home and reversing climate change” and to “stop seeing carbon as the enemy, and start using it as a resource”. Indeed, many industrial firms have switched their mindset to stop “demonising” carbon and instead realise the potential that is could have as a key material building block.
Twyford ends by reiterating that this will not see the company become sugar manufacturers and that any success will require the expertise of its existing supply chain to help share advice and best practice.
To this end, earlier in the week, CCEP confirmed the creation of a sustainability-linked supply chain finance programme that will be operated by specialist food and agri-bank Rabobank.
The new finance programme will reward suppliers that make improvements on sustainability across the business and will feature sustainability-linked KPIs that, if met, will create discounts against the initial funding rate.