During the World Bio-market Conference in Amsterdam, corridors and networking sessions were buzzing with the big announcement by BASF and Avantium confirming that they have signed a letter of intent and entered into exclusive negotiations to establish a joint venture for the production and marketing of furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) which is made from plant-based industrial sugars. It’s a chemical building block for polyethylenefuranoate (PEF) which is a potential substitute to PET in food and beverage packaging, specifically for oxygen barrier film and plastic bottles for carbonated drinks.
The JV will use the YXY process® developed by Avantium in its laboratories in Amsterdam and pilot plant in Geleen (The Netherlands), for the production of FDCA. It is intended to further develop this process as well as to construct a reference plant for the production of FDCA with an annual capacity of up to 50,000 metric tons per year at BASF’s Verbund site in Antwerp, Belgium. The aim is to build up world-leading positions in FDCA and PEF, and subsequently license the technology for industrial scale application.
FDCA is the essential chemical building block for the production of PEF. Compared to conventional plastics, PEF is characterized by improved barrier properties for gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen. This can lead to longer shelf life of packaged products. Due to its higher mechanical strength, PEF packaging can reportedly be down-gauged versus PET, resulting into a lower amount of packaging material and cost competitiveness.
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“With the planned joint venture, we want to combine Avantium’s specific production technology and application know-how for FDCA and PEF with the strengths of BASF,” said Dr. Stefan Blank, President of BASF’s Intermediates division. “Of particular importance is our expertise in market development and large-scale production as an established and reliable chemical company in the business of intermediates and polymers,” Blank added.
“The contemplated joint venture with BASF is a major milestone in the development and commercialization of this game-changing technology. Partnering with the number one chemical company in the world, provides us with access to the capabilities that are required to bring this technology to industrialization,” said Tom van Aken. “The joint venture will further strengthen the global technology and establish the market leadership for FDCA and PEF. With BASF, we plan to start production of FDCA to enable the first commercial launch of this exciting bio-based material and to further develop and grow the market to its full potential,” van Aken continued.
Yet to be seen is whether this new JV project will fly and deliver the expected capacity as it is not the first attempt by Avantium to find a JV partner to build a first industrial scale plant for FDCA and PEF.
In June 2015, Bioplaticsnews.com reported about the rumor of sugar producer Tereos (France) partnering with Avantium (NL) for producing PEF made from 2,5 furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) at Tereos’ site in Lillebonne, France
Tereos did confirm during the presentation of its annual 2014/2015 results that it had signed an exclusive partnership agreement with Avantium and Avantium had said a formal announcement would be released in the second part of the year. Since then, no public statement was made and no mention can be found on Avantium’s web site.
AVANTIUM PARTNERS WITH TEREOS
More recently, in Decembre 2015, Avantium signed a business development and roll-out agreement with Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (Japan), to commercialize 100% biobased chemicals FDCA and PEF in Asia. As part of this agreement, Mitsui has been granted a right to purchase a sizable volume of FDCA from the first commercial FDCA plant to be constructed by Avantium and both companies announced they would have PEF bottles rolled-out on the occasion of the Olympics in 2020.
Given its outstanding barrier performance, Avantium put forward that PEF can bring significant benefits as packaging material for oxygen sensitive goods such as food, beer and health care products. The parties are also partnering to launch and grow the market for other FDCA-based applications such as co-polyesters.
We now know that this plant is expected to be co-built by Avantium and BASF under the planned JV. Avantium had reserved a significant portion of the capacity from this first FDCA plant for Mitsui. Will BASF stick to this capacity agreement? Future will say but it is likely.
Tom van Aken, CEO Avantium, commented in December: “This partnership with Mitsui is a unique opportunity for Avantium to unlock the growth opportunities in the Asian market, one of the fastest growing markets for packaging materials. This collaboration expands our PEF developments beyond bottles, as supported by The Coca-Cola Company, Danone and ALPLA, into the new application of thin PEF films. Particularly Japan is a very attractive market for a high performance material like PEF. The Japanese packaging industry is highly innovative, resulting in a large variety of packaging formats to meet the high quality standards demanded by local consumers.
Avantium and BASF are making the right move to tick big items on their respective agendas:
- For Avantium, the issue is to deliver commercial quantities of PEF to its global partner-customers like Coca Cola and Danone by 2020;
- For BASF, the issue is to take a position on the carbonated drinks market with PEF and drive the profitability of this packaging market segment upwards from its current low profitability on PET..