Coke exploring 3 routes for plant-based packaging

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BREAKTHROUGH TECHNOLOGIES from Virent, Gevo and Avantium selected to help beverage giant reach global scale with sustainable packaging.

Coca-Cola is leading the beverage industry away from non-renewable plastic packaging by launching multi-million dollar partnership agreements. The company has chosen to work with three biotechnology firms to speed commercial development of next-generation PlantBottle packaging made from 100-percent plant-based materials. The company’s ambitious goal: to move its $60 billion-per-year global supply chain totally to plant-based bottles by 2015, according to Rick Frazier, vp, commercial product supply.

In 2009, Coca-Cola launched its first-generation PlantBottle, the first recyclable PET beverage bottle made from plants (with 30 percent plant-based material). It has been deployed in 20 countries, and more than 10 billion have been distributed.

In a mid-December 2011 news conference, Coca-Cola announced agreements with industry leaders Virent, Gevo and Avantium for developing plant-based alternatives to materials traditionally made from fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. Frazier says this decision followed a two-year analysis of technologies at more than 30 companies by Coca-Cola’s R&D team and technical advisory board.

“While the technology to make bio-based materials in a lab has been available for years, we believe Virent, Gevo and Avantium possess technologies that have high potential for creating them on a global commercial scale within the next few years,” Frazier says. “This is a significant R&D investment in packaging innovation and is the next step toward our vision of creating all of our plastic packaging from responsibly sourced plant-based materials.”

The agreements will help Coca-Cola support its long-term commitments through sustainable practices in sourcing and packaging supply. While Virent, Gevo and Avantium will follow their own routes to make bio-based materials, all materials will be in line with Coca-Cola and industry recycling requirements.
“Virent’s long-term agreements with the Coca-Cola Co. are pioneering milestones in the commercialization of our technology to produce plant-based materials,” says Virent CEO Lee Edwards. “Our patented technology features catalytic chemistry to convert plant-based sugars into a full range of products identical to those made from petroleum, including bio-based paraxylene, a key component needed to deliver 100-percent plant-based PET packaging.”

PET with Virent’s bio-based paraxylene has the same quality and recyclability as petroleum-based materials, with the benefit of being made from renewable materials. Virent, of Madison, WI, is slated to open its first full-scale commercial plant in 2015.

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