The recent $9m investment by Suntory is part of a larger $15m package dependent on Anellotech achieving specific milestones.
Suntory and Anellotech, a sustainable technology company producing cost-competitive renewable chemicals and fuels from non-food biomass, formed a partnership in 2012 and began construction of its 25-meter-tall TCat-8 pilot plant in 2016.
Now that the commissioning of the pilot plant is complete, the next step is testing its process viability and ability to scale up to commercial operation.
“This development program’s purpose is to optimize the process, generate data to validate the process economics, and to learn what is needed to design a commercial plant that can put out significant volumes of product,” David Sudolsky, president and CEO of Anellotech, told BeverageDaily.
The TCat-8 technology will produce renewable aromatic chemicals (benzene, toluene and xylenes, “BTX”) made from non-food biomass such as wood and agricultural residues for use in manufacturing plastics.
According to Sudolsky, most PET beverage bottles available today are made from fossil sources comprised of approximately 70% parazyline and 30% monoethylene glycol (MEG).
Suntory currently uses 30% plant-derived materials for its Mineral Water Suntory Tennensui brands and is pursuing the development of a 100% bio-based PET bottle.
“What’s missing from making it 100% is getting a bio parazylene, and that’s one of the compounds that Anellotech makes,” Sudolsky said.
In 2014, the Suntory Group established its Environmental Vision toward 2050 setting targets for 2020 including reducing its environmental impact by half in areas such as water consumption and CO2 emissions throughout the entire value chain.
Anellotech expects that the Bio-TCat Process can produce renewably-sourced aromatic chemicals with significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to their identical petroleum-derived counterparts.
The pilot plant will produce samples of the renewable bio-chemicals for ultimate conversion into bio-based plastics, which will eventually lead into full commercialization of cost-competitive bio-based aromatics production for bio-plastics for consumer products, Sudulsky added.
Economics of sustainability
As more and more CPG companies commit to long-term sustainability targets, the route to achieving those environmental goals must be economically sustainable, Sudolsky added.
“Our technology has to be viable, cost-competitive, and it has to be scalable,” he said.
Sourcing non-food biomass has a number of advantages to achieving economically-viable sustainability goals, according to Sudolsky, as the pulp and paper industry has an established, sustainable infrastructure compared to non-food biomass sources.
“With wood, there’s already a huge industrial practice in the US, Canada, and the whole world,” he said.
“In terms of cost, at least today, that’s probably the cheapest source of biomass you can get in large quantities.”
Full-scale commercialization of 100% bio-based plastic may not happen overnight, but Anellotech and Suntory’s 10-year vision is to have multiple plants providing industry standard volumes.
“We will demonstrate a scalable and cost-effective route to bio-paraxylene production,” Sudolsky said.
“If you’re not talking in big volumes, then you’re not going to transform a brand owner’s product line or an industry.”