April 26, 2023

PEFerence project: New plant-based bioplastics could make beer cans and glass bottles obsolete

One of the challenges in fibre-based food and beverages packaging is the barrier layer needed to keep moisture and gases from entering and exiting the package. These packaging barriers need to meet many different strict demands to be competitive. Therefore, a novel biobased polymer, namely PEF (polyethylene furanoate) with a powerful combination of environmental features and superior functionality, offers new opportunities for research and innovation.

PEF can be produced by converting plant-based sugars into the building block of PEF: FDCA (furandicarboxylic acid). The required sugar can be derived from agricultural crops, such as wheat, corn and sugar beet. When fully technologically developed, PEF can also be produced from cellulose, which is abundant in non-edible biomass, such as agricultural and forestry waste streams.

PEFerence, the EU flagship project funded under the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (JU)- currently Circular Bioeconomy Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU), started in 2017 and will conclude in 2025. It is an initiative aimed at leading the chemical industry towards a more sustainable future by engineering and building industrial scale biorefinery flagship plant to produce 100% bio-based polyesters and to establish an innovative supply chain to bring FDCA and PEF (and other polyester derivatives) to the market. In doing so, this consortium, which is coordinated by Avantium, seeks to replace a significant portion of fossil-based polyesters while also introducing technologically superior packaging materials like glass and aluminum with renewable, fossil-free alternatives.

Together with Avantium, other consortium partners involved in PEFerence are: Carlsberg Group, Henkel, Kebony, LEGO, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), Nestlé, nova-Institute, Polytype, Spinverse, Tereos and Worley. Each partner has a role in building the Flagship Plant and the value chain of PEF. With the involvement of such diverse customers and brand owners, PEFerence is set to demonstrate and validate 100% bio-based end-products varying from food, beverage and beauty product packaging to toys, films, apparel and others to ensure fast market deployment towards a more sustainable future. 

Avantium’s biorefinery flagship plant is the world’s first commercial-scale FDCA flagship plant. It is located in Delfzijl, the Netherlands and will be operational in 2024. The facility will produce plant-based FDCA, the building block in numerous furan-based chemicals and plastics such as PEF,

For companies in the forest-based sector, the PEFerence project is of interest for two reasons. First and foremost, it offers possibilities for new fibre-based packaging solutions that can be used by brand owners,  to address huge international markets. Moreover, the biomass used to produce the polymers can be sourced from forest residues:

In 2022, Avantium entered into an offtake agreement with the Carlsberg Group- both are the PEFerence partners-to jointly develop the Fibre Bottle. This innovative packaging solution features an inner layer of PEF polymer liner and an outer layer made of wood fiber. The incorporation of PEF provides enhanced protection to the carbonation of the beer, leading to an extended shelf-life and reduced food waste. This example demonstrates one of the potential applications of PEF in combination with fiber-based materials.

In February 2023, Avantium and Origin Materials, Inc announced their partnership to accelerate the mass production of FDCA and PEF for use in advanced chemicals and plastics. The partnership aims to bring the technology platforms of both companies together in order to produce FDCA from sustainable wood residues on an industrial scale of 100-kilotonnes per annum.

The PEFerence project contributes to Vision Target 9 in FTPs Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2030, New fibre-based products and lower CO2 emissions, and the challenge to provide sustainable, fibre-based, high-value consumer products. 

In conclusion, the PEFerence project is a pioneering initiative that seeks to produce 100% bio-based polyesters like PEF. By utilizing renewable and fossil-free resources, the project aims to reduce environmental impact, create more sustainable ways of living, and promote a circular economy.

More information on the project is available on the PEFerence website: https://peference.eu/the-project/

as well as in the FTP Database: http://db.forestplatform.org/#!/research-projects/1053/main