25 mei 2020
The Dutch technology company Avantium hopes to build a factory this year, which would enable them to market PEF in 2023. The chemical company developed a technology, which allows them to convert plant sugars into FDCA, a raw material for PEF (polyethylene furoate). Multinationals Coca-Cola and Danone have been investing in the development of PEF by Avantium since 2014, and Carlsberg brewery also sees the advantages of the new bioplastic. Does PEF also offer a solution for the plastic soup?
Paper beer bottles
PEF is a new product produced based on renewable raw materials. It can be recycled, and it retains carbon dioxide better than conventional PET. So your Cola stays good for a longer time in a PEF bottle. The material offers an alternative for drinks and another packaging for which PET is not suitable. One of the future applications is a paper beer bottle with a coating of PEF on the inside, as an alternative to a can with a PET layer. There are pouches made from PEF, and applications with textiles are also possible. The material is a potential gamechanger, certainly if it can even compete financially with other materials.
Headline in the guardian
The Guardian headlined on May 16 that the new bioplastic degrades within one year. In the article, Avantium CEO Tom van Aken presents PEF as the plastic soup solution: ‘Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in one year using a composter, and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions.’
How long it will take for PEF to decompose in those normal outdoor conditions is not known. The Daily Mail also recently commented positively regarding the intention to start commercial production of PEF. Investors are showing great interest, and the share price of stock-exchange listed Avantium is rocketing.
Is “Degradability” just a convenient argument?
Food and beverage multinationals are under mounting pressure from society due to their contribution to the plastic soup. They are looking for solutions that will enable them to continue to sell their products without being held responsible for the problem of the packaging litter. They would like nothing better than packaging that disappears in the environment without a trace. Is PEF the answer to their prayers because it degrades in the environment more quickly than oil-based plastic?
Van Aken told a very different story in an interview in 2017: “Biological degradability sounds great, but it is not compatible with the demands of food safety: a cola bottle needs to be able to stand on the shelf for six months. If you try that with a biologically degradable bottle, you first get degraded plastic in the Cola, and then you end up with a puddle of Cola and degraded plastic in the fridge. Parties like Coca-Cola and Danone have urged us to focus our attention on the recycling of PEF”.
Harman Spek, manager Innovation and Solutions for the Plastic Soup Foundation: ”What exactly is a biodegradable or compostable plastic, and at what point does the product contribute to reducing the plastic soup? There are no international agreements that answer those questions. We can only speak of a biodegradable alternative for oil-based plastic when a biobased substance becomes available that fully dissolves in the sea within two months, under conditions of minimal sunlight, low oxygen, and low temperatures leaving behind harmful residues. As far as we are concerned, Avantium needs to publish controllable information concerning the degradability of PEF before it can be embraced as the plastic soup solution. Seeing is believing!”.
Photo: Avantium, paper beer bottle.
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