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 water 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, but it and other companies have struggled to come up with an alternative to PTA derived from petrochemical p-xylene.
Origin was formerly known as Micromidas, which got its start with a fermentation process for converting municipal wastewater into polyhydroxyalkanoate.
In 2011, the firm licensed a technology from the University of California, Davis. Now Origin’s main focus, the process uses hydrochloric acid to convert biomass into 5-chloromethylfurfural (CMF), which is reduced to 2,5-dimethyl furan. That 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.