Besides the advancements in plant-based materials in the cutting edge of materials science, the conventional purveyors of petroleum-based plastics like Lego and Pepsi have also leaped forward. Coca-Cola has brought 100 percent plant-based plastic for its bottles, and it is ready to be commercialized.
This is after ten years of the introduction of its PlantBottle, comprising recyclable PET plastic made from around 30 percent plant-based material. The remaining 70 percent was made from terephthalic acid (PTA) that was extracted from oil-based sources.
The technology used is from a plant-based company, Virent. It involves turning sugar from corn into a hydrocarbon called paraxylene (bPX), which was in turn changed into a plant-based terephthalic acid (bPTA). However, using agricultural land for industrial purposes can create adverse environmental impacts, though Coca-Cola does say this process “lends itself to flexibility in the feedstock.”
The remaining 30 percent is made from sugars that have been directly converted into mono ethylene glycol (MEG) through a breakthrough process. This can be adapted to use hardwood feedstocks from sawmills or other wood industry waste products.
“The inherent challenge with going through bioethanol is that you are competing with fuel,” said Dana Breed, Global R&D Director, Packaging and Sustainability, The Coca-Cola Company. “We needed a next-generation MEG solution that addressed this challenge, but also one that could use second-generation feedstock like forestry waste or agricultural byproducts. Our goal for plant-based PET is to use surplus agricultural products to minimize carbon footprint, so the combination of technologies brought by the partners for commercialization is an ideal fit with this strategy.”
The company is ready to discontinue virgin PET from plastic bottles in Europe and Japan by 2030 and use renewable materials instead. It has produced a limited run of 900 of PlantBottle prototypes initially.
“We are taking significant steps to reduce the use of ‘virgin’, oil-based plastic, as we work toward a circular economy and in support of a shared ambition of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” said Nancy Quan, Chief Technical and Innovation Officer, The Coca?Cola Company. “We see plant-based plastics as playing a critical role in our overall PET mix in the future, supporting our objectives to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our reliance on ‘virgin’ fossil fuels, and boost collection of PET in support of a circular economy.”