VTT’s citrus peel technology enables plant-based, recyclable plastic bottles

The transition from fossil-based to renewable bioplastics requires the introduction of new solutions. VTT developed a technology that offers the possibility of manufacturing bio-based PEF plastic bottles to replace fossil-based PET bottles. The technology is based on the use of pectin-containing agricultural waste such as citrus peel and sugar beet pulp as a raw material. The carbon footprint of plastic bottles can be halved if their PET polymers are replaced by PEF polymers. At the same time, the material extends the shelf life of food.

“In the near future, you can buy orange juice in plastic bottles that have used orange peel as a raw material. The new technology that utilizes food waste streams is a solution for demanding food packaging based on the circular economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ”says Holger Pöhler , VTT’s working life professor . PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and other polyesters are widely used in food packaging, plastic bottles and textiles. Annual PET production is estimated at 30 million tonnes. By replacing fossil-based PET polymers with plant-based PEF polymers (polyethylene furanate), it is possible to reduce the carbon footprint of products by 50%. PEF plastic has better food protective properties than PET plastic, which prolongs the shelf life of the product. As a fully recyclable and renewable plastic, PEF opens up an opportunity for industry to utilize food waste streams and reduce environmental impact in the production of better plastics.

The technology developed and patented by VTT has significant advantages in the production of bio-based PEF plastics. The efficiency of the process is based on the stable intermediate used in the preparation to produce FDCA (2,5-furanedicarboxylic acid). FDCA is one of the monomers of the PEF polymer. Utilization of waste streams containing pectin also opens up new opportunities for the circular economy of plastics. A scientific article on new technology has been published on December 7, 2020 in Green Chemistry. A unique pathway to platform chemicals: aldaric acids as stable intermediates for the Synthesis of furandicarboxylic acid esters

 

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