Anellotech’s partner in pursuit of 100% renewable plastic bottles revealed…it’s Suntory

January 18, 2016 |

BD TS 011916 Anellotech smAs Anellotech’s 80-foot high development unit readies for installation, the giant Japanese beverage maker is revealed as its collaboration partner.

Whether Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Orangina, Aquafina water, Gatorade, Schweppes is your beverage of choice, the 100% biobased plastic bottle may well be coming your way, after it was revealed that Suntory has been a stealthy, undisclosed development partner of Anellotech since 2012.

Anellotech’s technology generates bio-aromatics including bio-paraxylene, the key component needed to make 100 percent bio-based polyester (polyethylene terephthalate, or “PET”) for use in beverage bottles. As an integral component in the bio-based value chain, Anellotech’s proprietary thermal catalytic biomass conversion technology (Bio-TCatTM) cost-competitively produces “drop in” green aromatics, including paraxylene and benzene, from non-food biomass — including waste residues.

The other major ingredient in the bio-bottle is ethylene glycol, which makes up 30% of the weight, and that’s a commercially available material in its biobased variety, which is why Suntory has already introduced 30% biobased bottling in its Mineral Water Suntory Tennensui brands.

It’s the third announcement of major partners in the Anellotech Universe in recent months. Suntory joins Anellotech’s existing partners IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN), Axens, Johnson Matthey, and a yet-to-be-disclosed “multinational corporate investor”, which has provided a $7 million equity investment, the first tranche of a total $10 million investment.

The Suntory-Anellotech partnership

The partnership, which began in October 2012 under a collaboration agreement that has provided more than $15 million in funding to date, is focused on advancing the development and commercialization of cost-competitive 100 percent bio-based plastics for use in beverage bottles as part of Suntory’s commitment to sustainable business practices. Suntory currently uses 30 percent plant-derived materials for their Mineral Water Suntory Tennensui brands and is pursuing the development of a 100 percent bio-bottle through this partnership.

Suntory is known around the world for its domination of the Japanese beverage market, but is also an owner and distributor of many of the world’s leading brands — including, as a partner in Pepsi Bottling Ventures, of Pepsi products around the world. Suntory also owns the OranginaSchweppes Group — and, among beverages not sold in plastic bottles, owns Jim Beam whiskey and France’s third-growth Chataeux LaGrange wineries.

It was a daring move at the time — that is, for Suntory to partner with relatively unknown Anellotech at the time. Back in 2012, Anellotech hadn’t yet signed the lease for its lab and the R&D center — much less had its TCat unit ready to go.

Anellotech’s fully-integrated testing unit

With construction now complete on its new, fully-integrated development and testing facility, Anellotech is ready to commence installation with groundbreaking scheduled for late January 2016. Operational in 2016, this 25 meter-tall unit will confirm the viability and suitability of the Bio-TCat process for scale-up, and generate the data needed to design commercial plants using Bio-TCat technology. The “TCat-8 unit” was jointly designed by Anellotech and its R&D partner IFPEN, and will use a novel catalyst under joint development by Anellotech and Johnson Matthey.

Next steps? “The unit needs to be installed, commissioned and running to get the data” CEO David Sudolsky told The Digest. “Specifically,i confirming yield, catalyst life, operability. And we need need to demonstrate that the process runs 300 days a year. It’s standard process development, and that’s why we’re teamed up with development partners like Axens and IFPN, and that’s what we’re focused on the next couple of years.”

Focal points? “We have three phases for the TCat program,” Sudolsky told The Digest. “First, confirming yield and the economics, then optimization, then continuous performance. Plus, you keep improving the catalyst, that’s a continuous effort that will never stop.”

Suntory as a first commercial plant owner?

After verification of the continuous operation of TCat-8, Suntory plans to move ahead with studies to consider the development of the first commercial-scale Bio-TCat plant. Specific timelines will be up to partners — since Anellotech is not an owner-operator. But expectations are aimed at an operational commercial plant before the end of the decade.

The technical and cost advantages seen by the partners

By starting from cost-advantaged feedstock and employing a solid catalyst in just one fluid-bed reactor, Anellotech’s process can produce the 100 percent bio-based aromatic chemicals that are used to make many significant plastics.  By going directly from biomass to BTX in this one reactor, Anellotech does not make a highly-oxygenated bio-oil intermediate product often seen in multi-step pyrolysis processes, and avoids the need to add substantial amounts of costly hydrogen.

Other than biomass and catalyst, there are no further inputs, apart from “minor amounts of hydrogen” used downstream of the reactor to remove trace impurities prior to further separation of the BTX. Think, sulphur and nitrogen, primarily.

The ultimate competitive advantage of Bio-TCat over fermentation-based technologies is derived from Anellotech’s use of a simple process performed in one reactor-catalyst system.  As a result, these bio-based aromatics can be sold profitably against their identical, petroleum-derived counterparts. Furthermore, because it uses renewable and abundant non-food feedstocks, such as wood, corn stover and bagasse, the Bio-TCat process is less expensive compared to those that use sugar-based feedstock, and avoids competition with the food chain.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“By focusing on the development of substitute materials to replace petroleum in making everyday consumer products, we are expanding our commitment to reduce the environmental burden of beverage packaging, including reduction of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions,” said Munehiko Takada, head of Packaging Material Development Department at Suntory.  “We are pleased with the progress Anellotech and its industry-leading partners have made, which gives us confidence in their ability to develop and commercialize a sustainable and cost-effective process for producing bio-based aromatics.”

“We are pleased to enter the next phase of our partnership with Suntory and further advance our technology to meet growing consumer demand for products and packaging made from sustainable sources,” said David Sudolsky, President and CEO of Anellotech.  “Anellotech and some of its alliance partners are already doing preliminary work to identify potential feedstocks, sites and operating partners for an initial commercial plant. With Suntory’s focus on bio-paraxylene, Anellotech can now offer a unique opportunity to new partners interested in bio-benzene-chain derivatives. This includes nylon, polycarbonate, linear alkyl benzene for laundry detergent, and styrene for styrene butadiene rubber.”

The bio-benzene opportunity

By now you may be wondering, if Suntory really wants paraxylene and Anellotech produces benzene, toluene and xylene, how does that match up? Essentially, the toluene and xylene are fully utilized in the production of paraxylene.

Leaving a bunch of benzene. Hence what may be a terrific benzene window.

To date, there hasn’t been much interest in biobenzene, despite the fact that benzene is one of the most important building block chemicals in the petrochemical industry. Most attempts to make biobenzene have started from sugar, which is expensive compared to petroleum, pound for pound, and is 53% oxygen, so 47% is lost right away in making a hydrocarbon and known processes have dragged off even more carbon and hydrogen in the form of water and CO2.

Think ethylbenzene, the precursor to styrene, used in the manufacture of polystyrene, which you’ll find in anything from packaging peanuts, DVD cases, and disposable utensils.

Or, think nylon? A whole bunch of benzene finds its way into adipic acid and caprolactam, used to make nylon (this, via cyclohexane).

The Bottom Line

This is a commercial milestone more than a technical one. We’ll see more on the technical front throughout 2016 as Anellotech’s new unit debuts. But, its tremendous news for industry that more partners are pouring into the BTX space and specifically in search of renewable paraxylene, again. That’s Anellotech, Avantium, Gevo, Virent and Liquid Light all tied up in pursuit of the 100% renewable plastic bottle. Just that we know of.

 

 

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