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Biobased Chemicals

Avantium moves forward on biobased bottle polymer

4 months after breaking with BASF in a sugar-derived chemicals venture, Avantium says it will build a plant on its own

by Marc S. Reisch
June 10, 2019

 

20190610lnp2-avantium.jpg
Credit: Heinz Troll/Avantium
Avantium's chief technology officer, Gert-Jan Gruter, working in an Avantium lab.

Four months after breaking with partner BASF, Avantium says it will proceed on its own to commercialize polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a biobased alternative to the beverage-bottle polymer polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

At a meeting with investors on June 6, Avantium said it plans to make PEF and its raw material, furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), at a plant with an annual capacity of 5,000 metric tons (t). The firm said it has engaged the engineering firm Worley to draw up engineering studies for the roughly $170 million facility, which it hopes to start up in 2023 at a still-to-be-determined site in northwestern Europe.

Avantium CEO Tom van Aken told investors that his firm continues to believe in the technology and “the unique properties of PEF.”

The Dutch firm originally planned a much larger project when it partnered with BASF in 2016. Their joint venture, Synvina, expected to build a 50,000-t FDCA plant costing $600 million at BASF’s Antwerp, Belgium, site. The venture ended badly early this year following Avantium’s decision to delay the plant’s opening from 2021 to 2023 or 2024 because of technical problems.

BASF found the delay unacceptable and dissolved the partnership. To gain full ownership of Synvina, Avantium bought out BASF for $20 million. Unhappy investors have pushed Avantium’s stock price down by more than 60% in the past year.

At the investor meeting, Avantium said it had discussed “different scenarios with potential partners and customers” but has now decided to license the FDCA and PEF technology on its own. The technology, called YXY, dehydrates carbohydrates to 5-methoxy methyl furfural. This intermediate is then oxidized to FDCA, which is reacted with ethylene glycol to get PEF.

Prior to starting its venture with BASF, Avantium had collaborated with Coca-Cola and Danone. Both beverage makers were eager to explore use of the biopolymer to make bottles. Van Aken said he still sees a “green” bottle in the future. “As we progress our learning curve and increase scale in the future, PEF will be able to compete in high-volume markets, including bottles for carbonated soft drinks and other beverages,” he said.

For now, though, Avantium’s plant will be one-tenth the size of the one it planned with BASF. When it starts up, it will produce polymers for high-value applications such as barrier films and specialty bottles.

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