A U.S.-Chinese partnership thinks it has a breakthrough that will bring PET beer bottles to widespread use.
Its innovation: a bottle with improved barrier properties and oxygen-scavenging material able to withstand in-bottle heat pasteurization.
Other PET beer bottles to date have been used to package cold-filtered beer.
Kortec Inc. of Beverly, Mass. - a maker of multilayer preform equipment - teamed with blow molder Zhong Fu Industries of Zhuhai, China, to produce the heat-pasteurizable PET beer bottle.
The firms claim the 15-ounce bottle can stand up to a pasteurization temperature of 153° F for more than 20 minutes. The developers claim the bottles have a shelf life of at least six months.
Material supplier Darex Container Products produces the ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer used in the bottle, and Honeywell Inc. supplies the nylon blend barrier/scavenger layer. The composition of the scavenger material was not disclosed, said Kortec President Paul Swensen.
During an Aug. 16 telephone interview, Swensen said the new bottle - and especially the improved barrier/scavenger layer - makes him more optimistic about the future of beer in PET than he was five years ago.
``Barrier materials alone do not provide the protection that beer requires, but the advent over the last couple years of scavenger materials combined with barrier materials provides oxygen protection and CO2 retention that beer requires,'' Swensen said. ``The development of those materials has coincided with the development of multilayer equipment that Kortec provides.
``Those two technologies have now made an economical container that meets performance requirements of beer.''
Kortec's multilayer, 40-cavity preform system is capable of producing about 60 million bottle preforms annually. Developments are under way for advanced equipment that can produce 100 million within the next year and a half, Swensen said.
``Today's containers are much more economical and get [beer in PET] into the range where the lightweight, unbreakable [and] consumer-preference advantages of PET are not offset by higher cost.
``Now, cost is well worth the benefits you get from it.''
Also, recyclability has been an issue of great discussion where beer in PET is concerned. Swensen said the Chinese government has set certain shelf-life and environmental guidelines for a PET beer bottle, and tests have proven this new bottle is recyclable.
``Recycling studies have been done to show that during the normal recycling process ... the barrier material will separate from PET so you can get a clean, recyclable, post-consumer resin that can be used in either bottles or fiber,'' he said.
After two years of discussions between the two companies, the new bottle should be produced on a commercial scale for a major brewery in China by the first quarter of 2002, Swensen said.
The companies have no immediate plans to produce the bottles in the United States, he said.
Swensen and Jeffrey C.F. Wong, the new product development manager at Zhong Fu, will unveil details about the technology at Nova-Pack Europe, set for Sept. 18-29 in Munich, Germany. The annual packaging conference is organized by Schotland Business Research Inc. of Skillman, N.J.