Plant-based bottles: Finnish researchers technology transforms citrus peel into recyclable bottles

04/01/2021 – Packaging / Sustainability / Recycling / Plant-based / VTT / Technology / PET / Bioplastic / Finland

Plant-based bottles: Finnish researchers technology transforms citrus peel into recyclable bottles

New technology developed at VTT enables the use of pectin-containing agricultural waste – such as citrus peel and sugar beet pulp – as raw material for bio-based PEF-plastics for replacing fossil-based PET.

 

The carbon footprint of plastic bottles can be lowered by 50 per cent when replacing their raw material of PET with PEF polymers, which also provides a better shelf life for food.


“In the near future, you may buy orange juice in bottles that are made out of orange peel,” enthused Professor of Practice Holger Pöhler from VTT, who added that the Finnish research institute’s novel technology provides “a circular approach to using food waste streams for high-performance food packaging material, and at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.


At present, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and other polyesters are widely used in food packaging, plastic bottles and textiles. The annual production of PET products is estimated at 30 million tonnes. Yet replacing fossil-based PET with plant-based PEF (polyethylene furanoate) polymers could slash the considerable carbon footprint of such products in half.


A recyclable, renewable, high-performance plastic


Moreover, the barrier properties of PEF plastics are better than that of PETs, meaning the food products have a longer shelf life. And because PEF is a fully recyclable and renewable high-performance plastic, it opens up possibilities for industry to reduce waste and have positive impact on the environment. 


VTT’s technology has significant advantages for making bio-based PEF plastics. The technology uses a stable intermediate for the production of FDCA (2,5-furandicarboxylic acid), one of the monomers of PEF, which enables a highly efficient process. In addition, utilising pectin-containing waste streams opens up new possibilities for the circular economy of plastics.

 

VTT’s unique scale-up infrastructure from laboratory to pilot scale ensures that this new technology will be brought to a technology readiness level that will allow polymer manufacturers’ easy transition to full scale.


The Finnish institute has patented the technology, and the research – published in the scientific journal Green Chemistry on 7th December 2020 and entitled ‘A unique pathway to platform chemicals: aldaric acids as stable intermediates for the synthesis of furandicarboxylic acid esters’ –can be viewed here

Latest issue – Vol 2/21
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