At the first ecochem conference held from November 19 to 21, 2013 in Basel Switzerland, Ed de Jong, head of Research & Development at the Dutch company Avantium discussed its main product polyethylenefuranoate (PEF). PEF is a biobased polymer developed in 2000 with a clear intention of replacing the plastic industry’s giant polyethylene terephthalate (PET). According to de Jong, PEF has several advantages compared to PET, including higher mechanical strength permitting lightweighting, 10-fold improved barrier properties (for oxygen; 4x improved for CO2), and the possibility of using 100% organic waste as feedstock. PEF has identical recycling properties as PET and is available as transparent material with a very similar appearance to PET. PEF is not biodegradable.
Avantium, a spin-off of the petroleum company Shell, has now filed an application with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for the use of PEF and its monomer, furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), in food contact applications. De Jong noted that the company intends to file a food contact notification with the U.S. Food and Drug Adminsitration (FDA) in 2014. While PEF allegedly requires less additives than PET, the alternative still battles with issues similar to other petrochemical-based polymers, namely, the migration of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS), for example cyclic oligomers of FDCA.
Avantium has great plans with PEF: In order to promote PEF’s use Avantium is now partnering with two large food manufacturers to develop PEF beverage bottles. Currently around 18 million tons of PET per year are used for beverage containers. Starting in 2017, Avantium will produce around 50 000 tons per year at its first commercial plant, and is planning to manufacture up to 500 000 tons annually from 2020 onwards when its second plant becomes operational.