BASF and the Dutch technology firm Avantium are forming a joint-venture company focused on polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a biobased polyester, and its precursor furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). Produced via the catalytic transformation of sugars, FDCA is reacted with ethylene glycol to make PEF.
The companies are touting PEF as a better alternative to polymers such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) for food and drink packaging because of its superior gas barrier properties. “This can lead to longer shelf-life of packaged products,” the partners say. PEF also has a higher mechanical strength than existing packaging plastics, so less material is required, they say.
The firms plan to build an FDCA plant with a capacity of up to 50,000 metric tons per year at BASF’s site in Antwerp, Belgium. Their long-term plan is to license the technology for industrial use.
The joint venture will use Avantium’s YXY process, which the Dutch company is currently testing in a pilot facility in Geleen, the Netherlands. Avantium has been working with Coca-Cola, Danone, and bottle maker Alpla to develop PEF for food and drink packaging.
Linking up with BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, is a win for the Dutch firm. “Avantium is a very small catalyst company and didn’t have the horsepower to exploit this technology on its own,” says William Tittle, a principal at the consulting firm Nexant.
News of the planned joint venture follows just weeks after an announcement by DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland that they have developed a process for making a similar biopolyester, polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate (PTF). That polymer also offers superior gas barrier properties when compared with PET.
DuPont and ADM plan to make PTF by reacting fructose-derived furandicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME) with 1,3-propanediol. FDME can also be reacted with ethylene glycol to produce PEF. DuPont says the process it has developed with ADM for making FDME is less expensive than existing processes for FDCA. Separately, at the American Chemical Society national meeting in San Diego this week, researchers proposed a biomass-based route to FDCA.
It is too early to predict how the new polyesters will fare commercially, although both appear to have performance advantages over PET and thus could open up new markets, according to Tittle. Questions remain, however, about how best to recycle them given that the packaging industry’s recycling infrastructure is geared to PET.