Beer and soft drinks could soon be enjoyed in “all-vegetable” bottles through new processes to transform “sustainable crops” into plastic. This new “green” plastic is currently being developed in the Netherlands in partnership with major beverage producers.
A biochemistry company in the Netherlands hopes to boost investment in a pioneering project that aims to make plastics from sugar plantations rather than fossil fuels, reports the Guardian .
The objective of the Dutch company Avantium is to offer an alternative to the PET currently used in the manufacture of plastic bottles for conditioning sodas and waters, for example.
The YXY project aims to catalytically convert ” sugar (fructose) of plant origin into a wide range of chemicals and plastics of plant origin, such as polyethylene furanoate (PEF). PEF is a plastic 100% vegetable and 100% recyclable which has performance properties superior to those of petroleum-based packaging materials widely used today ” , details the company on its website .
Once produced, this new polymer (PEF) can be used to manufacture bottles but also textiles or protective films.
The YXY project supported by major brands
This project, designed by the renewable chemical company Avantium, has already obtained the support of the beer manufacturer Carlsberg, who hopes to sell his pils in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of this vegetable plastic.
Avantium Managing Director Tom van Aken said he hoped to give the green light to a major investment in the world’s leading bioplastics plant in the Netherlands by the end of the year. The project, which remains on track despite slowdowns due to the coronavirus, is expected to reveal partnerships with other companies in the food and beverage industry later this summer.
The project is nonetheless already supported by Coca-Cola and Danone, who hope to secure the future of their bottled products by tackling the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution and dependence on fossil fuels to make them.
A greener material
Each year, around 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide from fossil fuels, which is a major contributor to the climate crisis. Most of these materials are not recycled and contribute to the scourge of microplastics in the world’s oceans . Microplastics can take hundreds of years to decompose completely.
” This plastic has very interesting durability qualities because it does not use fossil fuels and can be recycled, but it would also degrade in nature much faster than normal plastics ” said Van Aken to the Guardian.
PEF would also make it possible to conserve the CO2 contained in carbonated drinks in a sustainable manner. It would also be more resistant to high and low temperatures, which would wash it at a higher temperature and improve the cleaning efficiency.
The company also announces that the production of PEF is less energy-consuming and would therefore emit less CO2 than the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) currently used.
Decomposition in one year but recycling preferable
Tests have shown that plant plastic will decompose in one year using a composter, and a few more years if left under normal outdoor conditions. But ideally, it should be recycled, says Tom Van Aken.
The biorefinery plans to break down the sugars from sustainable plants into simple chemical structures which can then be rearranged to form a new herbal plastic. The company hopes that this new plastic (PEF) can appear on supermarket shelves by 2023.
The exploratory project will, as a first step, make a modest amount of 5,000 tonnes of plastic each year from sugars from corn, wheat or beet. However, Avantium expects production to increase as the demand for renewable plastics increases.
Avantium plans to use plant sugars from sustainable organic waste in the long term so that the development of plant plastic does not affect the global food supply chain.