Coca-Cola forms biotech alliances for plant-based packaging

Coca-Cola Company has entered into multi-million dollar partnership agreements with three biotech companies to develop commercial solutions for its next-generation PlantBottle packaging.

PlantBottle is made entirely from plant-based materials – Coca-Cola introduced it back in 2009 as “the first ever recyclable PET beverage bottle made partially from plants”. Since then, it has distributed more than 10 billion packages in 20 countries.

Following a two-year analysis of different technologies Coca-Cola’s R&D team and technical advisory board, the company has teamed up with Virent, Gevo and Avantium to build on the commercial viability of plant-based packaging materials.

Coca-Cola’s vice president of commercial product supply, Rick Frazier, said the deal would pave the way for the next step in creating all of the company’s plastic packaging from such materials.

He said: “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.”

While the three firms will follow their own route to make bio-based materials, they will be developed in line with Coca-Cola’s corporate and industry recycling requirements.

Commenting on the deal, Virent CEO Lee Edwards said: “Our technology features catalytic chemistry to convert plant-based sugars into a range of products identical to those made from petroleum, including bio-based paraxylene – a key component needed to deliver 100% plant-based PET packaging.”

Edwards added that the company is targeting early 2015 for the opening of its first full-scale commercial plant.

Meanwhile, Avantium CEO Tom van Aken said that using plant-based materials as feedstock enabled the manufacture of more sustainable packaging materials, such as PEF bottles – a bio-based alternative to PET.

He said: “We have produced PEF bottles with promising barrier and thermal properties and look forward to our work with Coca-Cola to further develop and commercialize PEF bottles. Our production process fits with existing supply and manufacturing chains and we are targeting commercial production in the next few years.”

Coca-Cola claims that its PlantBottle packaging is the only fully recyclable PET bottle made with up to 30% plant-based material available today.

It is made up of two components: MEG (mono-ethylene glycol), which makes up 30% of the PET, and is already made from plant materials, and PTA (purified terephthalic acid), which makes up the other 70%. In this next step, PTA will be replaced with plant-based materials, too.

The company estimates that the use of PlantBottle packaging in the first two years alone has helped save the equivalent annual emissions of more than 100,000 metric tonnes of CO2. Coca-Cola aims to use the packaging for its entire virgin PET supply by 2020.

Maxine Perella

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