Coca-Cola and Suntory have unveiled 100% plant-based PET bottle prototypes after more than a decade of significant investments, research, pilots, prototypes, and investments. Each has achieved so through different partnerships and technologies, ready for commercial scale-up.
Dana Breed, Global R&D Director, Packaging and Sustainability for The Coca-Cola Company explained, “The inherent challenge with going through bioethanol is that you are competing with fuel. 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 the carbon footprint.”
According to Coca-Cola, “The technology takes a sugar source and removes the step of creating ethanol as part of the conversion process to produce plant-based MEG. This means the process is simpler than incumbent processes and provides flexibility in feedstock choice,” hence the hardwood feedstock.
The bPX portion of the bottle prototype is made using Virent’s BioFormPX, which converts aqueous carbohydrate solutions into mixtures of drop-in hydrocarbons. The bPX for the Coca-Cola prototype was produced using sugar from corn that was then converted to plant-based terephthalic acid (bPTA). According to Coca-Cola, Life-Cycle Analysis studies indicate up to a 75% reduction in carbon emissions compared to petroleum-based paraxylene, with the potential to achieve net-zero or better reductions in the future.
Alpek Polyester produced the bPET for the prototype bottles, which were manufactured and filled within The Coca-Cola System. Nine hundred bottles were produced in all.
Last December, Suntory revealed it had also successfully created a prototype bPET bottle, ready for commercial scale-up. The prototype was produced for the company’s Orangina brand in Europe as well as its Suntory Tennesui mineral water in Japan.
The bottle is the result of Suntory’s 10-year strategic partnership with Anellotech. In late 2021, the TCat-8 pilot plant produced the bPX used for Suntory’s 100% plant-based prototype bottles.
Tsunehiko Yokoi, Senior General Manager Packaging Department for Suntory Holdings, explains, “In order to commercialize this technology, we will need an external partner to build a commercialized plant, and this requires time for thorough consideration.”
Says Quan of Coca-Cola’s strategy, “We are taking significant steps to reduce 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. 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.”