Putting its money where its mouth is, the European Union is funding an innovative project to develop a value chain for FDCA and PEF. The project, called PEFerence, has received 25m in subsidies from the European Joint Undertaking on Bio-Based Industries (BBI), consisting of representatives from the European Union and the bio-based industry, to establish an industrial scale, cost-effective biorefinery flagship plant for the production of the biobased building block furan dicarboxylic acid, or FDCA, as it is more commonly known.
Bio-based FDCA can be used to make a wide range of chemicals and polymers, such as polyesters, polyamides, coating resins and plasticizers. Crucially, it can also be used to make polyethylene furanoate, or PEF: a 100% bio-based polyester used to make bottles, films and fibres.
PEF has been making headlines for some years now: 100% recyclable, the material is touted for its superior barrier properties for gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen compared to conventional plastics, leading to a longer shelf life for packaged products. According to Avantium, the Dutch company that has pioneered the development of PEF, its oxygen barrier is 10 times better than PET; its carbon dioxide barrier is 4 times better than PET and its water barrier is 2 times better than PET. In addition, PEF offers attractive thermal properties and its higher mechanical strength enables less material to be used in packaging applications.
Industrial-scale production of the material, however, still remains to be realised.
The PEFerence consortium, comprised of 11 partners from 8 countries, aims to change that. Led by Synvina, a joint venture between Avantium and BASF, headquartered in Amsterdam and operating an FDCA pilot plant in Geleen, the consortium seeks to replace a significant part of fossil- based polyesters - such as PET - but also other packaging materials like glass and aluminium with 100 % bio-based furanics polyesters. PEF’s calculated cost price indicate that it can compete with traditional, multi-million tonne, packaging products such as aluminium cans, multilayer packaging and small size multilayer PET bottles, on price and performance when produced at scale. Other promising materials to be validated in the project include PBF (Polybutylenefuranoate) and FDCA-based polyurethanes.
To that end, the project, which officially kicked-off on Sept 20, will establish an industrial scale (50 000 tonnes/year), cost-effective FDCA (diacid) biorefinery plant producing bio-based chemicals and materials.
The potential reductions in non-renewable energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions achieved by using PEF-based packaging solutions compared to fossil-based PET or aluminium cans will also be evaluated.
Furthermore, PEF bottles can be recycled and used again as raw material for bottles, as well as in a cascading approach for packaging and textiles. During the project, fructose produced via an enzymatic isomerisation process from 2nd generation glucose will be assessed. The full value chain will be optimized, ensuring cost-effective and environmentally sustainable raw material sourcing and production of FDCA, PEF/PBF and polyurethane products. Finally, together with customers and brand owners, such as Lego System (Denmark) and Nestec (Switzerland), both of whom are members of the consortium, 100% bio-based end-products will be demonstrated and validated to ensure fast market deployment.