The company’s CEO David Sudolsky reached out to ConfectioneryNews after realizing Mars missed its packaging sustainability goal in 2015.
Sudolsky said he and Professor George Huber, now one of the leading catalysis and biomass conversion experts at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, formed Anellotech in late 2008 to develop and commercialize a process to convert inedible biomass, such as wood or agricultural residues, into petrochemicals for use of chemicals.
The conversion technology, called Bio-TCat, is “cost-competitive,” he added.
What is sustainable packaging?
By definition, Sudolsky pointed out, sustainable packaging is made from renewable biomass materials that offer a sustainably reduced carbon footprint compared to fossil-sourced alternatives.
He said consumer packaged goods today rely on low cost, highly effective and safe materials like polystyrene (PS), polyester terephthalate (PET) and other polymers.
“There’s no difference in physical and packaging properties for the end product, whether made all or in part from petroleum, sugar or inedible biomass,” Sudolsky said.
“The difference is in the carbon footprint, and making these materials from renewable biomass offers significant reductions.”
But, many of these materials are made from fossil sources, which does not make them bio-based.
“Bio-based materials are produced from non-fossil, renewable sources, including edible and non-edible biomass,” he said. “They can be identical to fossil-sourced material or totally new materials requiring testing, evaluation and market development to reach commercial scale and low cost.”
Why use inedible biomass instead of edible materials?
If Anellotech’s only goal is to produce biomass-made packaging, then why does it focus on using inedible materials instead of sugar?
“There is a strong economic driver to use non-food biomass for bio-packaging as it's much less expensive than sugar,” Sudolsky explained.
He added that PET is made from MEG (30% of the weight) and paraxylene (70%). A bio source of MEG is already on the market and is used to make 30% bioPET.
Currently, Coca Cola sells its products in a 30% bioPET bottle, called “Plant Bottle,” in the US, which is made from plants, according to Sudolsky.
He also believes the long-term strategy for major CPG companies is to replace sugar-sourced bio-MEG with nonfood sources.
“So, to get to a 100% bioPET from the current 30% bioPET requires a source of cost-competitive bio aromatics (paraxylene is the one needed to make PET) that the Bio-TCat process makes from inedible biomass like wood,” Sudolsky said.
According to US DOE’s recent industry presentation and Bloomberg, the sugar price is about $400 per dry ton, while biomass costs $60.
“Sugar is just too expensive to make aromatic chemicals, such as paraxylene,” Sudolsky said.
Licensing Bio-TCat technology
“Rather than building its own plants, Anellotech, along with partner Axens, plans to license the Bio-TCat technology globally," Sudolsky said.
"Anellotech licensees will build large commercial units to produce identical but now bio-sourced para-xylene and other chemicals from which bio-PET, bio-polystyrene and other confectionery packaging materials are made by the same polymer producer, using the same production facilities in the existing supply chain."
From beverage to confectionery
Anellotech has previously worked with Japanese beverage firm Suntory, which is now one of the company's key investors along with Toyota Tsusho, according to Sudolsky.
Both partners have expressed an interest in studying Anellotech’s first commercial plant, he said. The plant is anticipated to start its operation by the end of the decade for “a substantial licensing business.”
Extending Anellotech’s business from beverage to confectionery is “logical,” Sudolsky said.
“Confectionery companies use PET films and sheets, while beverage companies use PET bottles. Confectioners can also use polystyrene. The Bio-TCat process produces both para-xylene (for PET) and benzene (for PS) together in large volumes. So, there is a synergy between the two markets’ needs.”
In addition, Sudolsky said a recent study suggested US consumers were willing to pay up to an 11% premium for second-generation biofuel over conventional fuel.
“Consumers may favor confectionery brands that are taking a leading role in fighting global warming due to greenhouse gas emission,” he said.
But, Sudolsky stated, it is often the biggest players who take on these responsibilities as they have a bigger market share to protect.
He added that “confectioners currently use a variety of materials in highly automated packaging lines.
“Using a new polymer could add substantial costs for qualifying a new material, retooling, etc. As such, they could strongly benefit from a bio-based, drop-in version of the materials they already use, such as PET and PS.”