Gevo Inc. flipped the switch on a paraxylene biorefinery in Texas on Monday. The demonstration-scale facility is designed to help come up with viable production processes for the bio-based material.
Paraxylene is the building block for producing PET resin for food and beverage packaging, polyester and other materials. The bio-based paraxylene (derived from plant sugars) can directly replace petroleum-based material in PET, helping increase packaging sustainability.
Coca-Cola is providing research and development support for the plant under a Joint Development Agreement. Gevo is partnering with Toray Industries to develop fully renewable paraxylene for packaging and other applications.
Brands like Coca-Cola and Heinz already sell retail products in packaging using bio-based PET. Coca-Cola pours its Dasani water and Coke into the PlantBottle, composed of 30% bio-derived material, and plans to have all of its beverage brands in the PlantBottle by 2020.
Brett Lund, executive vice president for Gevo, told FoodProductionDaily.com that his is the only firm currently producing fully renewable PET. The goal of the Texas facility is to help big-name companies like Coca-Cola, Heinz, Nike and others imagine the production possibilities.
“We’re working on a demonstration scale, to prove to Coke and other companies that we can make this work on a much larger scale,” he said. “The new plant gives companies interested in fully renewable paraxylene a place they can look at and touch the technology, and see it in action.”
The sustainability angle, Lund said, can land food and beverage companies an advantage at the retail level.
“It gives brand owners a huge advantages over their competitors,” he said. “When they go to Walmart or other stores, sustainable products can be given priority. This s a real differentiating factor.”
Lund added that PET produced avoids leaning on non-renewable, petro-based plastics for packaging. Further, the PET is structurally identical to conventional PET, so it performs the same and can be recycled in the same waste stream.
“The only way to tell the difference between the two would be carbon dating,” he said. “Ours would only be a couple years old, while petroleum-based is thousands.”
According to Scott Vitters, general manager of the PlantBottle Packaging Innovation Platform for Coca-Cola, said that work at the facility will help Coke and other companies meet sustainability goals.
"While the technology to make bio-based materials in a lab has been available for many years, we believe Gevo possesses technologies that have high potential to create it on a global commercial level within the next few years," he said.
"The opening of this facility is an important milestone toward our vision of creating all of our PET plastic packaging from responsibly-sourced plant materials," Vitters added.
The next step for fully renewable paraxylene, Lund explained, is for Coca-Cola, Heinz and other companies to realize producing the material on a higher scale is possible and sign off on a project.