Shell Chemical Co. has introduced a copolymer PET grade that can be used in beer bottles for heat-pasteurized beers such as Budweiser and Heineken.
The copolymer has a low naphthalate content — less than 10 percent — and can produce beer bottles with the traditional ``champagne'' base. Beer marketers want to retain the base to differentiate plastic beer bottles from similar bottles used for soft drinks and juice, according to Ed Sisson, PEN business development manager for Houston-based Shell.
The move into pasteurization, a process in which beer is purified after being bottled, will allow plastic bottles to go beyond cold-filtered beers such as Coors, Sisson said in a Dec. 2 phone interview from Zurich, Switzerland.
Shell officials were in Zurich to discuss the new material and other advances at the PET 98 World Conference, an event organized by Maack Business Services of Zurich.
The Budweiser family of beers makes up almost 70 percent of sales for Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis firm that ranks as the world's largest brewer. The company, which held 13.4 percent of the international beer market in 1997, has conducted consumer research on a 16-ounce plastic bottle for its Michelob brand beer.
Anheuser-Busch would be interested in a pasteurizable material if its barrier properties met the company's standards, according to Norman Nieder, the firm's senior director of packaging technology.
``Ideally, a pasteurized plastic would be perfect since that's the same process most brewers are using right now,'' Nieder said in a Dec. 7 telephone interview from St. Louis. Nieder estimated 75 percent of U.S. beer is made through heat pasteurization. He declined to say if Shell had contacted Anheuser-Busch about the new copolymer PET grade.
Anheuser-Busch still is researching potential plastic applications, Nieder said. Miller Brewing Co., which bottles beer through the cold-filtered process, began test marketing 20-ounce and 1-liter PET beer bottles in six U.S. cities in November.
Sisson said the new copolymer would sell at a per-pound price of 25-30 cents higher than standard PET prices, which currently are about 50 cents per pound.
By comparison, polyethylene naphthalate, which has been used in earlier plastics beer bottle work, can cost $2-$3 per pound.
``PEN is extremely expensive,'' Anheuser-Busch's Nieder said. ``It couldn't exist for a long time in the market.''
Shell has been producing the copolymer since midsummer at PET plants in Point Pleasant, W.Va., and Patrica, Italy. An Israeli firm already is using the material for a hot-filled juice bottle. Sisson said two more applications should be commercialized by the end of 1999.
Shell expects the new material to be part of the beer market's full-scale move into plastics, a move packaging experts believe won't happen for at least five years.
``We believe the beer market will evolve in two tiers,'' Sisson said. ``The first market will be sports venues and beaches and places where you can't use glass or metal. The second tier will be in the substitution phenomena where plastic bottles will gain an advantage over cans.''