Avantium prepares to mass-produce plant-based PEF resin

March 11, 2024
The recyclable bioplastic can be used in packaging and is compatible with PET.

From the Spring 2024 issue of Plastics Recycling.

By Bruce Geiselman 

Avantium, a renewable chemistry company, plans to open a plant later this year that will enable commercial-scale production of a plant-based plastic that can be used in packaging and recycled in traditional polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling streams. 

Avantium’s YXY plant-to-plastics technology catalytically converts plant-based sugars into a chemical building block that can be used in a wide range of chemicals and plastics, including polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a polymer that can be used either as a replacement for PET or as a high-barrier liner in PET bottles.  

PEF’s oxygen barrier properties are 10 times greater than PET, and its carbon dioxide barrier properties are 16 times better, according to the company. The improved barrier properties can lead to a longer shelf life for foods and beverages, and they maximize the taste and fizziness of soft drinks. 

“PEF is a new polymer — it’s new to the world,” Avantium CEO Tom van Aken says. “It is something that has not been produced at commercial scale before. We have been working on this since 2005.” 

The company opened a pilot plant 10 years ago in Geleen, the Netherlands, that produces in small quantities furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), a monomer that is a key building block for PEF. FDCA and plant-based monoethylene glycol are used to make PEF. 

After producing FDCA, Avantium delivers it to an existing polyester polymer production facility in Portugal to convert FDCA into PEF under a tolling agreement.  

Upon opening the new commercial-scale FDCA plant, Avantium plans to continue working with the plant in Portugal for the final step of the process. Avantium will then distribute the PEF polymer to its customers. 

The amount of PEF produced with the current pilot plant has been sufficient for Avantium to validate the technology. 

“For more than 10 years, we’ve been making bottles, films and fibers,” Van Aken says. “It’s much smaller scale, but we’ve been able to do tests to show that people can use existing blow molding machines to blow these bottles, they can use existing filling lines to fill these bottles, etc.” 

Ready for prime time

The commercial FDCA plant under construction in the Netherlands will be operational sometime in the second half of this year, he says. Bottles produced with the new bioplastic could be available in supermarkets and elsewhere at the beginning of 2025. 

The company already has 15 offtake agreements — pledges from prospective customers to buy FDCA and PEF that Avantium plans to produce. Many plan to use PEF in bottle and fiber production, Van Aken says. In addition to bottles and packaging, PEF can be used in clothing. While most of the initial customers are based in Europe, many are global brands. 

“Brands like Louis Vuitton [LVMH Group] and Carlsberg [a Danish multinational brewer] are working globally,” Van Aken says. “We think that American consumers are going to get their hands on PEF in the near future.” 

In addition, Avantium in February 2023 announced a partnership with Origin Materials Inc., a sustainable materials company based in the United States, to accelerate the mass production of FDCA and PEF for use in plastics. The partnership aims to bring the technology platforms of both companies together to produce FDCA from sustainable wood residues on an industrial scale.  

The licensing agreement will allow Origin Materials access to Avantium’s process technology to design and build an FDCA facility with an annual capacity of about 110,000 tons in the United States. Avantium will supply Origin Materials with FDCA and PEF from its plants to accelerate market development, according to a press release. 

In the Netherlands, so far, Avantium has been using sugar from food crops, such as sugar cane, corn, wheat and sugar beets, to produce FDCA and PEF. However, in the long term, the company would like to use non-food crops and forestry and agricultural wastes for the process. 

Recycling compatibility is key

While Avantium isn’t the first company to manufacture bioplastics, the big advantage PEF offers is its compatibility with the existing PET recycling stream. 

“PEF looks similar to PET, but, of course, it’s a different polymer,” Van Aken says. “The benefit is that we have demonstrated by doing numerous trials with recycling companies that you can blend PEF with PET.” 

PEF would be a relatively small volume of the PET recycle stream and would not be detrimental to the recycled plastics’ properties.  

“I think PEF is one of the very few products that doesn’t interfere with the PET recycling process,” he says. “In fact, the recycled PET that results out of this is actually a fraction better than normal rPET [recycled PET] because it has higher barrier properties. ... That is giving us an opportunity to bring PEF to the market and make sure that we can recycle it from the start.” 

However, as the amount of PEF in the market increases, Avantium believes it would make sense to create a separate PEF recycling stream. The benefit would be to preserve the gas-barrier properties of recycled PEF. 

“That’s going to be something for the future,” Van Aken says. 

Because of its superior barrier properties as compared to PET, PEF is suitable not only for replacing PET bottles but also for replacing glass bottles and aluminum cans, Van Aken says. 

Avantium’s PEF is more expensive to produce than PET. However, Van Aken says that, as the technology matures and production volumes increase, the cost gap should narrow. 

“It is dependent on scale because you need the economy of scale in order to bring down the cost,” Van Aken says. “We’re bringing a new polymer to market. Our first asset that we’re building right now in the Netherlands is 5,000 [metric] tons per year, which is a small plant in comparison to the regular PET plants operated today. Therefore, we’re currently selling PEF at a significant premium. If you produce PEF at the same scale as PET, you come to the same ballpark of pricing.” 

Van Aken also believes that PEF is more valuable than PET not only because of its high barrier properties but also because of its environmental benefits. 

“It’s more sustainable; it’s fully circular, and it offers significantly better performance,” he says. 

Lowering the carbon footprint

Multiple life-cycle assessments have been done on PEF, and the most recent one, conducted by a European institution, shows that it has a 62 percent lower carbon footprint than PET when used in bottles, Van Aken says. 

“I still think that there is significant room to further reduce the carbon footprint of PEF because it is still at the beginning of its life cycle and there is a learning curve,” Van Aken says.  

The lower carbon footprint is logical, he says, because PEF starts from renewable sources.  

About 10 percent of plastic used in manufacturing bottles and films ends up in nature, Van Aken says.  

“We have evaluated with a third party what happens if PEF ends up in nature,” he says. “And it demonstrates that PEF degrades significantly faster than PET. We don’t see this as an end-of-life solution, and we are focused on recycling of PEF.” 

Van Aken says the company is not trying to market PEF as a biodegradable solution. However, it will not accumulate in nature like PET.  

In addition to building a FDCA plant in the Netherlands and coming to terms for a licensing agreement with Origin Materials for a U.S. plant, Avantium hopes to build additional plants in Europe and Asia to serve markets across the world with its new resin. 

Listed below are just a few of the companies with which Avantium has negotiated offtake agreements, according to Van Aken and press releases on Avantium’s website: 

  • Carlsberg Group: The Danish brewing company has signed a conditional offtake agreement with Avantium to purchase a fixed volume of PEF resin for various packaging applications, including its Fibre Bottle, a bio-based and fully recyclable beer bottle. The Fibre Bottle contains an inner layer of PEF produced in Avantium’s current pilot plant. The outer shell of the bottle, produced by the packaging company Paboco, consists of sustainably sourced wood fiber. The shell has the added benefit of insulation properties, which help keep beer colder for longer. The brewer has been sampling the bottles in pilot markets in Western Europe. 
  • Albert Heijn: The largest grocery chain in the Netherlands will become the first supermarket chain in the world to introduce PEF packaging for its store-brand products, according to Avantium. Refresco, a global beverages bottler, will produce Albert Heijn’s new fruit juice bottle made from PEF once Avantium's commercial plant for PEF is operational. 
  • AmBev: The Brazilian brewing company, part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev Group, the largest beer company in the world, will purchase PEF to make bottles for its soft drinks. AmBev and Avantium worked together to develop multilayer bottles for AmBev soft drinks, using PEF as a high-barrier liner in PET bottles. 
  • LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics Houses: This global producer of well-known perfume and cosmetics brands, including Parfums Christian Dior, Givenchy Parfums and Guerlain, signed an agreement to introduce PEF to the cosmetics market. 

Avantium is on the verge of transitioning from a company focused on research and development to becoming a large-scale manufacturer of PEF resin, Van Aken says in a recent press release. 


Avantium N.V., Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 31-0-20586-8080, www.avantium.com 

About the Author

Bruce Geiselman | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Bruce Geiselman covers extrusion, blow molding, additive manufacturing, automation and end markets including automotive and packaging. He also writes features, including In Other Words and Problem Solved, for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. He has extensive experience in daily and magazine journalism.