My Tuesday prediction that Gevo would be Coca-Cola’s partner of choice for biobased PET packaging over Virent was half right (or half wrong). It turns out the beverage giant has chosen both to develop a route to biobased para-xylene, the missing link to get Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle from 30% renewable to completely renewable (Virent’s people saw the post but were quite friendly to me anyway).
Coca-Cola says it vetted 30 potential partners for the project, but eventually chose Gevo, Virent, and Avantium, a Dutch company working on poly-ethylene-furanoate (PEF). Avantium says PEF is a fully recyclable biobased compound with the performance properties required to replace PET. I don’t know that much about Avantium or PEF, but certainly will pay more attention.
Gevo’s process involves converting isobutanol, which the company will begin producing at large-scale in 2012 as it begins rolling out its retrofit technology for ethanol plants. Virent’s process uses catalysis instead of fermentation.
Coca-Cola is already selling bottles with 30% renewable content, thanks to MEG produced from Brazilian sugarcane. A viable, scalable biobased route to para-xylene, which together with oxygen makes up the rest of the bottle, has eluded the chemical industry. Nonetheless, Coca-Cola has been adamant that it wants its PET supply chain to be completely renewable. Its first target was for 2020, but v.p./commercial product supply Rick Frazier said at a press conference this morning it could be a reality as soon as 2015 (but acknowledged it would ultimately depend on the partners’ progress).
The announcement was quite gentlemanly, as Avantium, Gevo, and Virent CEOs stayed on message that they are pleased such a large consumer product company has confidence in their respective technologies and is making a “serious” (although unspecified) investment in biobased materials. Coca-cola says it will not pass on any additional cost it may incur on to the consumer.
I guess we’ll be drinking sugar from bottles made of sugar sooner than originally planned. Considering Coca-Cola’s market penetration, this will be more than a ripple in the global PET supply chain.