Could a mere soft drink turn the global petroleum industry into an also-ran? Leading soft drink producer Coca-Cola seems to think so. The company has been working towards transitioning its entire fleet of plastic bottles over to 100% bioplastic under the catchily named PlantBottle platform, but that’s small potatoes. Rather than just cleaning up its own supply chain, Coca-Cola is collaborating with Ford, Heinz, and other corporate giants on a global petroleum-to-bioplastics conversion mission.
Our friends over at Biofuels Digest have just tipped us to the latest PlantBottle news from Coca-Cola, which involves a major step forward for the company’s bioplastics goal, so let’s start with that.
Green Twofer For Coca Cola’s PlantBottle
So far PlantBottle is only part bioplastic, the remainder being the common petro-plastic PET. The goal of 100% bioplastic by 2020 is going to require a massive investment in infrastructure. Keeping in mind that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, that new infrastructure is not going to be impact-free.
However, Coca Cola has found one way to keep those impacts down to a minimum. According to Biofuels Digest, the company is piggybacking the source for one of the bio-chemicals in PlantBottle onto a biofuel production process from the company Virent.
Specifically, the source is a byproduct from the Virent biofuel process, a precursor to bio-paraxylene (paraxylene is a common petrochemical used for making PET bottles among many other plastic products).
Several steps are required to render the byproduct into a usable form, and that’s where the corporate magic is happening.
From Biofuel To PlantBottle
The Virent – Coca Cola collaboration goes back to 2011, when the the two companies joined in a development-and-supply agreement for Virent’s bio-paraxylene under the name BioFormPX®.
Earlier this week, the two companies announced that Coca Cola will ramp up its investment in the separation and purification process, enabling Virent to scale up production at its demonstration plant in Wisconsin while tweaking the cost-effectiveness angle.
The funding from Coca Cola has also helped Virent fine tune its technology across the board, so Virent anticipates that its biofuel and other bio-product processes will also get a boost up.
If Virent is starting to ring a whole bunch of bells, that’s probably because the company is also receiving support from us taxpayers so group hug. Actually make that three hugs because along with Energy Department funding, Virent has won grants from Agriculture and Commerce.
Virent has also won a bunch of stakeholder honorifics for its catalyst-based process, which yields drop in bio-substitutes for petroleum products (the drop-in angle is critical because it eliminates the need for additional new infrastructure along the supply chain).
Did we mention that Virent is also one of the 17 original members of the National Advanced Biofuel Consortium? Yes they are, and the consortium received seed money from President Obama’s Recovery Act but don’t bother with the group hug thing because we’re losing count.
In 2013 Virent announced that the US Air Force would be among the first to purchase and test its drop-in jet biofuel, so now it’s time to connect the dots.
PlantBottle Conquers The World
So, connecting the dots, it looks like Coca Cola’s investment in Virent is going to lead to a more solid supply chain for Honda and the Defense Department in terms of biofuel, on top of the bio-PET supply chain.
On top of that you have Coca-Cola’s partnership with the food giant Heinz for bioplastic bottles, which began in 2011 and quickly morphed into a multi-player bioplastic collaboration involving Nike and Proctor & Gamble, along with Ford.
The partnership with Ford alone is huge. The deal is for Ford to use the chemical equivalent of PlantBottle bioplastic in seats and other interior parts.
Here’s how that plays out according to Coca-Cola:
Coca-Cola believes PlantBottle will serve as a catalyst for redirecting the entire polyester fiber and plastic resin industry toward a renewable future. The company is actively working with partners around the world to build a global supply chain for PlantBottle material, including teaming up with JBF Industries Ltd. to build a world-scale production facility in Brazil.
Scott Vitters, Coca-Cola’s manager for the PlantBottle platform, also anticipates that many more collaborations are in the works:
We had to redefine what winning in the sustainability space meant to us. We still wanted to lead, but instead of keeping people out, we made the decision to purposely bring others into the space in order to accelerate supplier investment, drive down cost and enhance our overall environmental benefit.
Not for nothing, but back in the day “environmentalism” meant the little guys fighting the big guys. Now it looks like the corporate behemoths are duking it out between themselves. Your move, ExxonMobil?