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Avantium and Alpla working together on bio-based PET bottles

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June 3, 2013

Renewable chemicals firm Avantium is teaming up with packaging major Alpla Werke Alwin Lehner GmbH to develop bottles made from polyethylene furanoate, a bio-based alternative to PET.

The joint development agreement will help to accelerate the commercial rollout and industrialization of PEF, according to a May 30 news release.

Alpla will develop PEF bottles for personal- and home-care applications like cosmetics and detergents. The blow molder will also make bottles for food applications such as sauces, dressings, baby foods and edible oils.

The two companies will also work on developing PEF bottles for beer and alcoholic beverages.

Beer in PET bottles is big in Eastern Europe, but hasn't caught on in Western Europe or in the U.S.; PEF can change that, said Nathan Kemeling, Avantium's director of business development for YXY.

PEF has better barrier properties than PET — 10 percent better for oxygen and 4 percent better for carbon dioxide, as well as an improved water barrier, he said.

There's always some hesitation when switching a product from glass bottles to plastic bottles, but because PEF is bio-based and recyclable, it could make plastic beer bottles a new trend, he added.

Alpla, based in Hard, Austria, produces bottles, preforms and caps at more than 149 plants in 39 countries.

This is Avantium's third notable partnership; the Amsterdam-based firm is also collaborating with the Coca-Cola Co. and Groupe Danone on producing bio-based bottles, including Coke's iconic PlantBottle.

The goal of these collaborations is to bring 100 percent bio-based PEF bottles to market by 2016.

The company is on track to meet that goal, Kemeling said.

Avantium's PEF recently won the company an Innovation in Bioplastics Award from the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Bioplastics Council.

Avantium is the first recipient of SPI's newly established award, which recognizes "outstanding innovation in unique and creative application of bioplastics materials, products or processes by a company," according to an SPI news release.

Avantium currently supplies its partners with PEF produced at its pilot plant in Geleen, Netherlands. The firm is planning to open a 50,000-ton commercial plant in 2016 to enable a full commercial launch and bring PEF bottles to consumers.

PEF is a 100 percent bio-based and recyclable polyester, developed to replace conventional materials like PET. The material is made with Avantium's YXY technology — a catalytic technology that converts carbohydrates from plants into chemical building blocks for bioplastics, including a bio-based alternative to terephthalic acid.

Along with superior barrier properties, PEF has other performance benefits, like a higher gloss transition temperature that allows hot-fill opportunities, Kemeling said.

The material also offers environmental benefits; life-cycle analysis has shown a 70 percent reduction in non-renewable energy usage and carbon footprint, compared to PET, he said.

When PEF is produced on an industrial scale, it will also be cost-competitive with PET, he said.

"You can have new applications, be bio-based, have performance benefits, but at the end, it's the price that counts," he said.

While most of its focus has been on bottles, Avantium is also exploring new applications for PEF. It's working with various partners on fiber developments and searching for similar partners to work with on developing thin films, Kemeling said.