Toyota Tsusho Backs Bioplastic Tech in Race to Bring 100% Plant-Based PET to Market

by | Jul 20, 2016

T-Cat8Toyota Tsusho, the Toyota Group’s trading arm, is now an investor and corporate partner in sustainable technology company Anellotech, which is working to make 100 percent bio-based PET plastic a reality.

The companies declined to comment on Toyota Tsusho’s investment amount, but said it has been used to fund development of Anellotech’s Bio-TCat technology used to make bioplastics. This technology converts non-edible biomass into plastic-producing chemicals benzene, toluene and other xylenes (BTX).

Anelloteh’s Bio-TCat process aims to enable 100 percent bio-based plastics to be produced at commercial scale — a target that has thus far eluded manufacturers. The market for bio-based PET is projected to reach $13 billion by 2023, according to a market research report.

Last year Coca-Cola and Virent produced the world’s first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant materials — but at demonstration scale. Coca-Cola has been producing partially bio-based PlantBottle since 2009, a product comprised of 30 percent plant materials.

Coca-Cola, Nike, Ford and other major companies are also founding members of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, which supports plant-based plastics.

Global beverage company Suntory, which owns Schweppes, Jim Beam and other drink brands, is another investor and corporate partner in Anellotech. Suntory also currently uses 30 percent plant materials in its Tennensui brand of mineral water and is pursuing 100 percent plant-based PET bottles through its partnership with Anellotech.

Consumer brand owners want to replace petroleum inputs in their products with bio-sourced alternatives, says David Sudolsky, president and CEO of Anellotech. He says Anellotech used Toyota Tsusho’s investment to fund the installation and commissioning of its testing facility, called TCat-8 (pictured), in Silsbee, Texas.

“This 25 meter-tall unit’s purpose is to confirm the viability and suitability of the Bio-TCat process for scale-up, and generate the data needed to design commercial plants using Bio-TCat technology,” Sudolsky told Environmental Leader in an email. “After verification of the continuous operation of TCat-8, Anellotech Alliance partners Suntory and Toyota Tsusho have announced plans to move ahead with studies to consider the development of the first commercial-scale Bio-TCat plant, which we expect to have licensed by the end of the decade.”

The technology will allow Suntory to produce 100 percent bio-based plastics for use in beverage bottles, Sudolsky says. It will also help Toyota use more bioplastics in its products, which Toyota Tsusho says is why it is investing in Anellotech.

Lux Research’s Ross Kozarsky, who manages the firm’s materials research groups, says Toyota Tsusho’s investment may be the boost needed to bring 100 percent plant-based PET to market.

“Despite a string of technology development announcements over the past few years, Anellotech’s cash position was previously cause for concern as it failed to reach past fundraising targets,” Kozarsky said. “The Toyota Tsusho announcement is encouraging because not only does it provide needed financial support, but also strengthens Anellotech’s key relationship portfolio with a strategic partner that can help accelerate commercial progress.”

But it it’s going to achieve market adoption, Anellotech will have to convince established companies that its processes is cheaper and technologically better than its competitors — and petroleum-derived BTX.

“This is a much tougher task today than it was when Anellotech was founded in 2008 because not only does it need to beat out an increasing number of start-ups, but oil price is much lower, making the value proposition of such drop-in bio-based equivalent technologies much more difficult,” Kozarsky said.

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