Biobased PEF (polyethylene furanoate), the new feedstock for soft drink bottles (Coca Cola and Danone) is not only green, but also cheaper to produce than both fossil and drop-in green PET (polyethylene terephthalate). It also has better properties.
Tom van Aken, Avantium’s CEO, explains it again and again. PEF is six times a better barrier for oxygen than PET, and three times for carbon dioxide. All scores for PEF are better, not only against PET, but also against all other possible competing materials. It can be processed in the same way and in the same machinery as PET; the bottle manufacturers do not need new equipment if they replace PET with PEF. It is even easier to handle because of the lower melting temperature, and better in use because of the higher glass transition temperature. And last but not least, in large quantities it is even cheaper, in particular when compared to bioPET, Pepsi Cola’s idea. Tom van Aken: bioPET requires twice as much feedstock as PEF, and hence, even if it would perform equally well on all other parameters, PEF would be the winner. And in the competition with fossil PET, PEF’s superior properties would tip the scales in its favour.
A large number of factories
Tom is confident. Says Tom: ‘For some time we knew that furans are the only molecules with a ring structure to be produced economically on an industrial scale from biobased resources. Therefore, this is the way to produce large amounts of green polyesters, polyamides and polyurethanes. We do that through chemical catalysis, at present in our 40 ton/y pilot plant in Geleen, and soon a in small commercial plant – hopefully in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe – with a capacity of 30 to 50 kton/y. About five years later, we will construct the first full commercial plant, ten times as large. It will be operated under licence. That makes sense because merely Coca Cola will need a large number of factories worldwide to produce PEF bottles for its products. To which must be added the fibre and film markets, which are measured in millions of tons as well.’
Finally, Tom returns the question whether it would be responsible to use a large amount of sugar for PEF production: the sugar they need as a feedstock, is but one fifth of the sugar in the bottle.