Facility advancing 100 per cent bio-based PET

Anellotech facility advancing 100 per cent bio-based PET development
Anellotech's TCat-8 development and testing unit
American biochemical producer Anellotech has finished construction on a fully-integrated development and testing facility to produce 100 per cent bio-based plastic drinks bottles for beverage company Suntory Holdings Ltd.

The TCat-8 facility, designed by the sustainable technology company Anellotech and its partner IFP Energies Nouvelles (IFPEN), is a result of the partnership with Japan-based Suntory, which began in 2012, and will be operational at the end of January.

The facility is seen as a giant step forward for the development and commercialisation of 100 per cent plant-based bottles, the overall aim of the partnership, which has so far produced more than $15 million (£10.4 million) worth of funding.

Installation is currently underway, and once operational the installation will act as a pilot to elucidate whether the first commercial-scale plant is viable.

Suntory, a company committed to adhering to sustainable business practices, already uses 30 per cent plant-derived material in bottles for their mineral water, Suntory Tennensui, but is now aiming to produce bottles from only renewable sources. Other brands created by Suntory include Orangina, Schweppes, Ribena, Lucozade and Jim Beam.

Renewably sourced “drop in” aromatics

The plastic drinks bottles produced by Suntory are made from polyethylene terephalate, or PET, which is a commonly recycled polyester of which approximately 54 million tonnes are manufactured globally every year.

The key constituents of PET are paraxylene and another substance called bio-MEG, both traditionally petroleum-sourced products. Sugar-derived bio-MEG is currently in use by Suntory in Japan, though renewably-sourced paraxylene is not yet commercially available despite much demand in the industry. This has so far hindered the ability to make plastic bottles from 100 per cent plant-based sources on a commercial scale.

The development of Anellotech’s thermal catalytic biomass conversion technology (Bio-TCatTM) has allowed the production of environmentally-friendly, cost-competitive paraxylene from non-food based biomass alone. 

This technology also makes it possible to produce a number of aromatic compounds, or ‘drop in’ aromatics which can be use as replacements in existing technologies, to be used in the manufacture of many different plastics.

Allenotech’s Bio-TCatTM technology

Bio-TCatTM technology involves the production of a mix of aromatic compounds (BTX) in a single one-fluid bed reactor with a single, novel, solid catalyst designed by Allenotech and sustainable technology company Johnson Matthey.

This method, the company says, has the advantage that it doesn’t produce highly oxygenated bio-oil intermediates and so doesn’t require the addition of large amounts of hydrogen like multi-step alternatives, making it a much cheaper process.

The single reactor/catalyst system provides advantages over fermentation strategies, such as those used by Gevo, which use more expensive sugar-based feedstock, as the only inputs are biomass and the catalyst. The removal of impurities from the BTX mix does require a small amount of hydrogen downstream in the process, but allows the BTX to be further separated into its constituent aromatics, benzene, toluene and xylene.

The toluene can be further processed to produce more xylenes, which can be converted into paraxylene. When paraxylene is polymerised with bio-MEG, a PET resin is produced that can be used to make plastic bottles.

Bio-based paraxylene provides a competitive advantage over counterparts as it uses renewable and abundant resources and it uses non-food based biomass, such as wood, corn stover and bagasse, to avoid competition with the food chain.

Reducing the “environmental burden of beverage packaging”

Head of Packaging Material Development Department at Suntory, Munehiko Takada, commented: “By focusing on the development of substitute materials to replace petroleum in making everyday consumer products, we are expanding our commitment to reduce the environmental burden of beverage packaging, including reduction of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are pleased with the progress Anellotech and its industry-leading partners have made, which gives us confidence in their ability to develop and commercialise a sustainable and cost-effective process for producing bio-based aromatics.”

David Sudolsky, President and CEO of Anellotech, added: “We are pleased to enter the next phase of our partnership with Suntory and further advance our technology to meet growing consumer demand for products and packaging made from sustainable sources.

“Anellotech and some of its alliance partners are already doing preliminary work to identify potential feedstocks, sites and operating partners for an initial commercial plant. With Suntory’s focus on bio-paraxylene, Anellotech can now offer a unique opportunity to new partners interested in bio-benzene-chain derivatives. This includes nylon, polycarbonate, linear alkyl benzene for laundry detergent, and styrene for styrene butadiene rubber.”

More information on Anellotech can be found at the company’s website.