dispatches from European Bioplastics Conference

5-HMF producer sees potential in packaging

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: AVA Biochem
Photo: AVA Biochem

Related tags Polyethylene terephthalate

There is a ‘market pull’ from the packaging industry according to the producer of 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) which can be used as an intermediate to make bio-based polymers.

AVA Biochem said furan-2,5-dicarboxylic acid (FDCA) to produce polyethylene furanoate (PEF) as a replacement for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the more interesting current applications.

Thomas Kläusli, chief marketing officer at AVA Biochem, told FoodProductionDaily more about 5-HMF as a platform chemical.

“It can be used in a number of applications, it’s the basis for 175 different chemicals and over 20 performance polymers,” ​he said at the European Bioplastics Conference.

“The probably most interesting application right now is going over FDCA and then to PEF to replace PET. This is very interesting especially for the packaging industry.”

Production plant

AVA Biochem, a subsidiary of AVA-CO2​ Schweiz AG, has an industrial plant in Muttenz, Switzerland for production of 5-HMF from biomass using its hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC) process.

Transformations of 5-HMF to relevant target molecules can take advantage of the primary hydroxyl, aldehyde and furan functionalities, said the firm.

5-HMF is available from carbohydrates such as fructose, glucose, sucrose, cellulose and inulin. 

Kläusli said advantages included its ‘green’ nature, price competitiveness due to potential scalability and improved characteristics such as higher gas barrier.

“We have three advantages: one is that PEF made out of 5-HMF is bio-based, it can only be made of biomass and not by the fossil route,” ​he said.

“The second advantage will be the price competitiveness, we have developed a process that is highly scalable which allows us to produce on bulk scale meaning we will be price competitive in the future with petrol-based.

“The third one is that PEF made out of our 5-HMF has technical advantages compared to the existing PET. For the packaging industry these are very interesting. The biggest advantage is the gas permeability, the gas barrier is much better with PEF than with PET. It is 10 times higher for CO2​ and about five times higher for oxygen.”

This means whole new applications and products can be introduced in PEF bottles, tea and beer are some typical examples, said Kläusli.

“But also for the food packaging industry it allows to keep the food fresher for longer.

“The second advantage you have with PEF is the higher tensile strength. Meaning you can reduce the amount of product that you need to produce a PEF bottle but when you hold it in your hand it still has the same strength as a regular, normal PET bottle. Now that allows for potentially reduced production costs.”

Avantium groundwork

It is not the only company looking at the route of FDCA to PEF to replace PET – Avantium is working on its main building block (FDCA) to replace terephthalic acid (TA), a petroleum-based monomer that is used to produce PET.

The firm’s food contact application for the monomer used to create PEF was backed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in October. 

The Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF) focussed on FDCA - the monomer intended to manufacture PEF polymers with ethylene glycol as co-monomer.

Demonstration of technology

Kläusli said before going large scale it needed to pilot demonstrate the technology.

“We have a plant [in Switzerland] that has a production capacity of 20 tons per year of high quality 5-HMF in crystallized form,” ​he said.

“We also have the ability to produce 5-HMF in liquid form, there are different applications, some customers prefer it in liquid form others want to have it crystallized, we can do both today.

AVA Biochem 5-HMF 2
Photo: AVA Biochem

“The process is pretty much the same that we would apply in a large scale production facility. So the goal is to see that the process works smoothly, that we have the yield that we need and expect and have quality of the end product that the market is requesting.

“The next step is to plan a large scale plant where we produce commercially in the 50-100 thousand tonnes of 5-HMF because that is the quantity that the market needs to produce products. The 5-HMF we are producing today is more for the fine chemical industry where they are happy with smaller quantities but request highest possible purities.”    

AVA Biochem is looking at options around licensing the technology to specific markets where it doesn’t want to be present but is also in discussion with partners to build a large scale plant where it would have a share.

Kläusli said groundwork done by Avantium around PEF and FDCA has ‘helped a lot’ and added while it is a competitor it is also a ‘brother in arms’.

“It’s still a market that is being developed there were many questions a few years ago about FDCA in PEF. I think that all the big market players have looked into it so it’s not something completely new and that makes it easier for us,” ​he said.  

“[Avantium has] the same goal as we have and I think it’s always good if there’s more than one company trying to do the same thing, the market is big enough to have two companies anyway.”

Avantium’s partners include The Coca-Cola Company, Danone and ALPLA.

However, the firm delayed its submission to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until 2016 as the agency also requires polymer data, unlike EFSA which is focussed on monomer data.  

Related topics Processing & packaging

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