The soft drink industry is closely following the developments in the biobased plastics sector.
Early this year, Coca Cola announced that it would bring a plastic bottle onto the market that consists partially of biobased raw materials. The objective of “Bottles made from biopolymers” is even more ambitious: a plastic bottle made entirely from sugar beets. Wageningen is carrying out this project in collaboration with the agro-industrial concern Cosun. The project fits within the framework of the Carbohydrate Competence Centre, a knowledge centre for the development of new food and non-food products which use carbohydrates as a raw material.
Water-resistant and temperature-resistant
The project follows a feasibility study involving the question whether or not building blocks may be derived from sugar beets which are necessary to produce biobased plastics. These building blocks must be better than the bioplastics that are currently in production. The quality of these actually leaves a lot to be desired; water-resistance and temperature-resistance are particular problems. It is crucial for the polymers derived from sugar beets to be resistant to high temperatures and for them to be more water-resistant than the current biopolymers available. The preliminary study showed that these conditions have been satisfied.
The researchers expect that the sugar beet has the potential to be a suitable replacement for crude oil and natural gas as a raw material for plastics. The bottle that Coca Cola is launching on the market this year for its Dasani water brand consists of 30% biobased raw materials (originating from sugar and sugar syrup). The researchers involved in the “Bottles made from biopolymers” project have set the bar even higher: a fully biobased polymer bottle. An efficient production process is a prerequisite for this. For this reason, the research is now primarily focused on the question of how building blocks derived from sugar beets may be used efficiently to serve as raw materials for plastics.