Toray Industries says it has produced laboratory-scale samples of 100% biobased polyethylene terepthalate (PET) fibers. The company, which says it is the first to reach this milestone, used para-xylene that partner Gevo (Englewood, CO) derived from isobutanol, and commercially-available monoethylene glycol (MEG). The news closely follows Toray’s June announcement that it had produced 100% renewable PET resin, again using p-xylene produced by Gevo.
PET that is partially renewable is already being produced on a large scale; Coca-Cola sold 2.5 billion PET bottles in 2010 that were made with sugarcane-derived MEG, which makes up 30% of PET, and hopes to use completely plant-based PET by 2020. Purified terepthalanic acid (PTA), produced from p-xylene and oxygen, makes up the other 70% of PET, but has not been produced renewably at large scale.
So far, only a few firms have announced they are pursuing biobased p-xylene. Gevo expects to begin commercial-scale isobutanol production next year at two retrofitted ethanol plants, and its agreement with Toray includes a supply contract for p-xylene sometime in 2012 or thereafter.
Virent Energy Systems (Madison, WI) unveiled a biobased p-xylene process in June. The company operates a 10,000 gallon/year demonstration plant at Madison, and is in talks with potential partners about a larger-scale unit. It hopes to have commercial-scale production by the end of 2014.
PepsiCo announced in March that it had developed the world’s first 100% renewable PET bottle, but did not disclose where it was getting either its MEG or p-xylene. [I suspect Gevo, since the company’s results for the first ended March 31, 2011 noted it had provided sample volumes of biobased p-xylene to multiple “international brand owners” for the production of a 100% plant-based bottle made from PET]
Toray says the success of this trial, “albeit under laboratory conditions,” is proof that polyester fiber can be industrially produced from fully renewable biomass feedstock alone.