Coca-Cola taps biotech firms to scale PlantBottle production

Beverage giant taps three companies to commercialize technology for producing plastic bottles made of 100 percent plant-based materials.

Beverage giant The Coca-Cola Co. has tapped three biotechnology companies to aid with the commercialization of its plant-based packaging, PlantBottle.

The deals with Virent, Gevo and Avantium were made after Coca-Cola studied the approaches of more than 30 different potential partners, said Rick Frazier, vice president of commercial product supply, Coca-Cola. The new multi-million-dollar relationships center on exploiting the full potential of PlantBottle, a packaging approach that currently replaces up to 30 percent of the PET in bottles with plant-based materials. The goal is to extend PlantBottle so that 100 percent of the materials are plant-based, Frazier said.

"We know how to do this in the lab. What we don't know is whether the technology for doing this can actually operate on the scale required," Frazier said during a press briefing to announce the partnerships.

Who are the companies that will aid Coca-Cola in this mission? Each of the biotechnology pioneers will use its own approach in conjunction with the secret approach for Coca-Cola Plant Bottle.

  • Virent's technology uses catalytic chemistry to convert sugars into materials that have properties similar to petroleum. One of the materials it produces is bio-based paraxylene, which is key for creating 100 percent plant-based PET. Virent's first commercial plant is supposed to open in 2015.
  • Avantium's approach is based on its YXY technology, which it can use to create PEF bottles. The company is hoping to achieve commercial production levels "in the next few years."
  • Gevo intends to produce paraxylene from its bio-based isobutanol. The company didn't offer a commercialization timeframe in Coca-Cola's press materials about the new partnerships.

The current PlantBottle packaging is made from MEG (mono-ethylene glycol) and PTA (purified terephthalic acid). The research and development relationships announced today will replace the PTA with plant-based materials, according to the companies.

Coca-Cola's goal is to use PlantBottle as the material for its entire "virgin" PET supply by 2020. What's more, the company has been licensing its approach to other companies, including Heinz, so it is easy to see how this might become a real revenue generator for the company.

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