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Nestlé, Danone look to renewable bottles

The companies hope to crack the biobased polyester problem by working with start-up Origin Materials

by Alexander H. Tullo
March 9, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 11

Credit: Nestlé
Nestlé hopes to have biobased water bottles on the market in a few years.
A photo of a Nestlé water bottle
Credit: Nestlé
Nestlé hopes to have biobased water bottles on the market in a few years.

Nestlé Waters and Danone are the latest beverage makers to investigate biobased polyethylene terephthalate (PET). They are teaming up with the California-based start-up Origin Materials to form the NaturALL Bottle Alliance, which hopes to have bottles made from renewable PET on store shelves by 2020.

PET is typically made from the petrochemicals ethylene glycol and purified terephthalic acid (PTA). Since 2009, Coca-Cola has been using biobased ethylene glycol in its PlantBottle container, but it and other companies have struggled to come up with biobased PTA.

Coke has spent half a decade working with the biobased chemical firms Avantium, Virent, and Gevo on substitutes for PTA. Similarly, the Japanese beverage maker Suntory partnered with another start-up, Anellotech, which makes the PTA precursor p-xylene from lignocellulosic biomass.

Nestlé, which calls itself the world’s number one bottled water seller, has brands including Nestlé Pure Life, Poland Spring, Deer Park, and Ozarka. Danone markets water under the Evian and Aqua names.

Bottled water is often cited as an example of excessive plastic packaging. “Our goal is to establish a circular economy for packaging by sourcing sustainable materials and creating a second life for all plastics,” says Frederic Jouin, Danone’s head of R&D for plastic materials.

Origin was formerly known as Micromidas, which got its start with a fermentation process for converting municipal wastewater into polyhydroxyalkanoate.

In 2011, the company licensed a technology from the University of California, Davis. Now Origin’s main focus, the process uses hydrochloric acid to convert cellulosic biomass into 5-chloromethylfurfural (CMF). CMF is reduced to 2,5-dimethyl furan, which undergoes a Diels-Alder reaction with ethylene to yield p-xylene via an oxanorbornene intermediate.

Nestlé and Danone invested in Origin as part of a $40 million financing round last fall. The company has received $80 million since its founding in 2008.

Origin has been running a pilot plant in Sacramento for three years. Next year, it plans to inaugurate a plant that can make about 10,000 metric tons of CMF per year, according to CEO John Bissell. The company hopes to open a plant 10 times that size in 2022.

Water is a large opportunity for biobased PET. The market research firm Euromonitor projects that bottled water will account for 45% of the soft-drink market by 2019, up from about 30% in 2005.



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