For Patrick Schiffers, CEO of Synvina (joint-venture between BASF and Avantium), bringing PEF and its precursor FDCA to market, is a huge undertaking, especially for the ‘spring chicken’ Synvina. ‘One company can hardly achieve this on its own. That’s why PEFerence is so important because it brings together key players along the whole value chain from raw material to end-product and recycling to achieve this. For Synvina’s endeavor to bring FDCA and PEF to the market, it is important to have these strong partners along the value chain in a regular dialog. PEFerence enables this.’
Production plant in Antwerp
The PEFerence project was established in the first half of 2017. As mentioned before, key value chain partners will work closely together to develop and commercialize key applications for a new plastic based on renewable feedstock PEF (polyethylenefuranoate) and its monomer FDCA (furandicarboxylic acid). Ultimately, the project should lead to the establishment of a 50.000 kT production plant on the BASF ‘Verbundsite’ in Antwerp. PEF has several interesting applications, most notably in packaging of carbonated beverages due its superior barrier properties. Avantium has established various partnerships with companies in the PET-value chain, for example Danone, Alpla and Toyobo to develop a 100 percent biobased PEF-bottle. Also PEF can be used in other applications such as carpets or textiles.
Strengthening local economies
As PEFerence covers the entire value chain, feedstock research is an indispensable part of the project as this factor has a significant impact on the production process and the end products. Momentarily, Synvina uses bio-based carbohydrates from corn, wheat or other crops to produce FDCA. According to Synvina, this process is competitive and ‘working well’. However, by using sugars based on second generation biomass – for example waste/sidestreams from forestry or agriculture, the company might be able to produce a more sustainable or cost-competitive chemical. There is also an added benefit if these feedstocks are locally sourced. By using regional agricultural resources (for example lignocellulosic biomass) and decreasing the dependency on oil imports, value will be added to the European economy. More-over, the setting up of (local) biobased value chains will create jobs in rural areas throughout the value chain. As for producing FDCA based on first generation carbohydrates, Synvina needs to scale up this process. Schiffers: ‘To build a large-scale plant for a new molecule is complex and needs to be analyzed carefully. We are well positioned for this challenge. Synvina holds the right expertise for this challenge by combining the technology leadership of Avantium and the production excellence of BASF.’
FDCA’s broad scope
Once scaled up, the impact of FDCA on various value chains could be huge. About ten years ago, the US Department of Energy identied FDCA as one of the twelve ‘green’ chemicals of the 21st century. For the time being, PEF – given the sheer size of the PET market – is the main route. This also applies to the PEFerence-project. However, PEF is just one the many materials that can be derived (partly) from FDCA. Additional to the applications with PEF, FDCA can be processed to polyamides for engineering plastics and fibers, to polyurethanes for foams, coatings and adhesives and to esters for personal care products and lubricants.
Within PEFerence, the focus will be on the following applications: PEF-based packaging, toys and coatings. As mentioned before, the (food) industry from the likes of Coca Cola, Danone or Nestlé has expressed an interest in using more sustainable plastics for its products. PEF is based on 100 per cent renewable feedstocks and fully recycable, therefore it has a more favourable CO2-footprint. The ultimate usp’s, however, are the aforementioned barrier properties which enables for example the competition with other packaging formats such as glass or aluminum. The material also offers a higher mechanical strength, which enables thinner PEF packaging, there less material use and lower logistical costs.
In the end, the PEFerence consortium should lead to the demonstration, validation and commercialisation of at least three 100 per cent bio-based materials in end user applications in packaging, toys and coatings. These applications should be based on local bio-based value chains from raw material sourcing to PEF-based end products. Finally, the environmental and socio-economic performance of the developed products should be demonstrated. Ultimately, the proof the pudding is in the eating. The project partners are eager to ‘dig’ in.