Wis. bioenergy firm makes petroleum-free bottles for Coke

Source: Thomas Content, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel • Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wisconsin bioenergy firm Virent is aiding Coca-Cola’s push to use plastic bottles that contain no petroleum.

For the past decade, the Madison, Wis., clean tech company has worked to develop renewable chemicals and biofuels. And with its most recent focus — a renewable, plant-based chemical — Virent aims to help Coke and other companies concerned about sustainability find a petroleum-free chemical for plastic.

“We’ve provided our material to Coke, and some of the partners in the value chain, so we have the first examples of renewable, sustainable 100 percent PlantBottle that we’re proud of,” said Virent CEO Lee Edwards.

Coca-Cola introduced its first PlantBottle in 2009, and this year said it has sold 15 billion in two dozen countries. Plant-based materials make up 30 percent of the plastic in those bottles.

The challenge for companies like Virent is to make the rest of the plastic — 70 percent — from plants instead of petroleum.

Coca-Cola asked Virent and two of its competitors to develop a 100 percent plant-based plastic bottle ready for production before 2020.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that this is possible technically in the laboratory. What we’re now working on is to make sure that this is replicable and commercially scalable, and that’s an ongoing challenge,” Jeff Seabright, Coca-Cola’s corporate environmental officer, said this year.

Coca-Cola estimates that the PlantBottle has cut roughly 140,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the company’s PET plastic bottles since the introduction of the new package.

Virent is a private company that has continued to depend on partnerships with companies like Shell, Honda and Coca-Cola to steer its growth (Thomas Content, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 14).