The company is already selling PET bottles with 30% renewable content by using monoethylene glycol (MEG) made from Brazilian sugarcane ethanol. Its partner has never been publicly disclosed, although it’s widely assumed to be India Glycols, the only producer making renewable MEG at sufficient scale to supply Coca-Cola’s needs (2.5 billion PlantBottles were sold in 2010).
To get to its 2020 goal of using 100% renewable PET, Coca-Cola needs to find a plant-based source of para-xylene in order to produce a renewable source of purified terephthalic acid (PTA), the other 70% of PET.
Assuming Thursday’s revelation involves developing a viable route to PTA, there’s a short list of characters. Toray has made 100% renewable PET using para-xylene its development partner Gevo produced from isobutanol. Since Gevo is bringing two commercial-scale isobutanol projects online in 2012, smart money might be on Gevo/Toray. Sasol has already called dibs most of Gevo’s initial volumes for its own solvent business, so Coca-Cola might not be rolling out too many PlantBottles in the near-term. But then again, we’re a long way from 2020.
On the other hand, Virent Energy Systems recently unveiled a biobased para-xylene process and is operating a 10,000 gallon/year demonstration plant at Madison, WI. It hopes to reach commercial-scale production by the end of 2014, also comfortably within Coca-Cola’s time-frame. And while they might not be as close to commercialization as Gevo, a recent $46-million funding round suggests their technology, management team, and business plan are compelling.
Coca-Cola may be accelerating its timeline after PepsiCo’s March announcement that it had developed the world’s first 100% renewable PET bottle. And kudos here to PepsiCo for even bothering with renewables after dumping money into polylactic acid-based SunChips bags, only to have the supposedly green consumer decide that, although they do want to save the environment, having to deal with slightly noisy food packaging was a deal-breaker.
Anyway, I digress. PepsiCo did not disclose where it was getting either its MEG or PTA, but again I suspected Gevo (the company’s results for its first quarter noted it had provided sample volumes of biobased para-xylene to multiple “international brand owners” for the production of a 100% plant-based bottle made from PET).