BioPlastek 2011 Forum: Virent’s Para-Xylene Enables Production of 100% Plant-Based PET Bottle

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The major hurdle to making a 100% renewable PET bottle has been the lack of a cost-effective process for producing plant-based purified terephthalic acid (PTA). Although some have reportedly converted biomass directly to aromatic intermediates (including para-xylene, the precursor to PTA), this was achieved only at the laboratory level. That may have all changed with the announcement earlier this week that Virent had successfully made para-xylene from 100% renewable plant sugars in a 10,000 gal/year demonstration plant. Because the conversion of para-xylene to PTA is widely utilized commercial chemistry, in effect, the bio-based para-xylene paves the way for production of a100% plant-based PET bottle. Details of this remarkable achievement will be presented by Virent in a late addition to the BioPlastek 2011 program on June 27-29 at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

BioPlastek 2011 Forum

Virent's para-xylene from renewable plant sugars may finally make bio-based PTA and 100% renewable PET a reality.

Skyrocketing resin prices have intensified the race to create plant-based PET bottles as replacements for petroleum-derived ones. This led to recent dual announcements, first by H.J. Heinz Company of plans to use Coca-Cola’s 30% plant-based PET PlantBottle™ for packaging its ketchup, and then by PepsiCo which announced a 100% plant-based PET bottle in the laboratory. Bio-based ethylene glycol is available and replaces 30% of the fossil fuel.

The more challenging issue has been how the other monomer of PET, namely the PTA component, can be replaced by a bio-based version to cost-effectively achieve 100% renewable PET packaging near-term.

The “holy grail” of a bio-based PTA may finally be a reality with the announcement by Virent on June 6th that it successfully made para-xylene (PX) from 100% renewable plant sugars. A patented catalytic process is used to convert the plant-based sugars into PX, identical to that made from petroleum. The conversion of PX to PTA is widely utilized commercial chemistry. In essence, the bio-based PX fills in the “missing piece” to make a 100% bio-based PET bottle.

Further details on this remarkable achievement will be presented by Kieran Furlong, Virent’s commercial manager-chemicals, in a late addition to the BioPlastek 2011 Forum program. The Forum will take place on June 27-29, 2011, at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.    

Especially noteworthy is that the PX was made in Virent’s 10,000 gal/year demonstration plant. Others who claim to have converted biomass directly to aromatic intermediates (including PX) are believed to have done so only in a lab environment.

Virent used US-grown beet sugar as the feedstock in this demonstration. A similar process has been demonstrated at smaller scale with a wide variety of feedstocks.

To hear history in the making, register today at http://bioplastek.com to attend the BioPlastek 2011 Forum.

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Ron Schotland
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