A newly improved polyester bioplastic is potentially a major player in the production of bottles and film in food packaging. Many other applications are possible.
DuPont and BASF have competing entries under development based on furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), which has been known for at least 80 years. What’s new is that processes are said to be less costly, improving the economics to make novel polyesters. DuPont is partnering with Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) while BASF is teaming with Avantium, which will use its YXY technology.
FDCA can replace terephthalic acid in the production of polyesters.
Plastics made from FDCA have better barrier properties than standard PET as well as better mechanical properties, allowing thinner walls. Avantium claims that productions costs are also lower: $1200 per metric ton versus $1600. Obviously, the price of oil is critical in the economics of the material. The carbon footprint is more than 60 percent lower, according to Avantium.
DuPont’s initial entry is called polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate (PTF), which is derived from Bio-PDO (1,3-propanediol). The BASF entry is called polyethylene-furanoate (PEF).
“This molecule is a game-changing platform technology. It will enable cost-efficient production of a variety of 100 percent renewable, high-performance chemicals and polymers with applications across a broad range of industries,” said Simon Herriot, global business director for biomaterials at DuPont.
The BASF-Avantium JV is called Synvina and is based in Amsterdam. Currently developmental quantities are available. There are hopes to build a 50,000 metric tons per year plant at BASF’s Verbund site in Antwerp, Belgium, but no dirt will fly until customers are convinced.
Primary initial targets are film for food and bottles for beverages, and fibers for carpets and textiles. Injection molding will be among future target applications. PEF is described as suitable for foil pouches, bottles for carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, water, dairy products, still and sports drinks and alcoholic beverages as well as personal and home care products. PTF and PEF can be recycled in existing recycling streams, according to the producers. It’s not clear if there are performance differences between the two bioplastics.
Avantium has development partnerships with The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, ALPLA and other companies on the Joint Development Platform for PEF bottles. Other partners include Mitsui and Toyobo, which is developing PEF films about 10 micrometer in thickness that can be used for food packaging, in electronics applications such as displays or solar panels, and for industrial or medical packages.
According to Synvina, PEF films have a 10 times higher oxygen barrier and 2-3 times higher water vapor barrier than standard PET. They are fully transparent. There are new packaging opportunities, such as transparent pouches for soups.
“FDCA is a sleeping giant with huge potential. Although it was first produced in the 1950s, it has never been successfully developed and brought to market until now,” said Tom van Aken, CEO of Avantium. “I strongly believe that Synvina will wake up that sleeping giant and make it available for industrial use. With the development of a proven FDCA production process, and the construction of a strong partnering and cooperation network, Avantium has provided Synvina with all necessary prerequisites. It will benefit from BASF’s expertise in market development and large-scale production and as a reliable chemical company in the business of intermediates and polymers.”
ADM and DuPont are planning to build an integrated 60 ton-per-year demonstration plant in Decatur, Illinois to provide material for testing and research.
The raw materials for the products are industrial agricultural sugars. Bio-PDO is now made in Tennessee. Avantium, which is a 2000 spinoff from Royal Dutch Shell, operates a pilot plant in Geleen, the Netherlands.
They currently use so-called first-generation feedstocks, such as glucose from corn, sugarcane or starch, but plan on evolving to more expensive second-generation feedstocks such as cellulose, woodchips, grass, agricultural waste streams. Customers prefer bioplastics derived from nonedible feedstocks, but it’s not likely that they will pay a premium for them based on current conditions.