Virent Selected to Help Coca-Cola Produce No-Petroleum bottles

Virent, a Wisconsin CAPCO program company, has recently partnered with Coca-Cola:

Biofuels technology developer Virent Inc. will shift from research and development mode to commercial production mode in the coming years, under a partnership with The Coca-Cola Co. announced Thursday.

The multi-million dollar agreement will help Virent move forward with plans to open a commercial plant by 2015, the Madison company said.

The announcement came months after Virent announced a research breakthrough that can enable bottling companies to make plastic bottles entirely from materials derived from plants.

Until now, bottles of Coke that carry the PlantBottle label have been made 30% from plant material and 70% from fossil fuels. Coke has been marketing the PlantBottle since 2009.

Under the new agreement, Virent along with two other biofuels technology firms, Gevo and Avantium, were all selected to help Coke provide 100% renewable, 100% plant-based bottles.

“”While the technology to make bio-based materials in a lab has been available for years, we believe Virent, Gevo and Avantium are companies that possess technologies that have high potential for creating them on a global commercial scale within the next few years,” said Rick Frazier, vice president of commercial product supply at Coca-Cola, in a statement. “This is a significant R&D investment in packaging innovation and is the next step toward our vision of creating all of our plastic packaging from responsibly sourced plant-based materials.”

Virent said the multiyear joint development and supply agreements will enable it to scale up toward production, with an initial focus on development and engineering work to plan for the first plant.

The majority of the renewable materials that would be produced by Virent’s first plant will be allocated for purchase by Coca-Cola’s supply chain partners, with the remainder reserved for market development in complementary market applications, Virent said.

Virent, formerly known as Virent Energy Systems, announced in June that its its chemical engineers have been able to produce a molecule that mimics a petroleum molecule that’s key to making PET recyclable bottles.

The molecule paraxylene, also known as PX, is made from 100% plant sugars.

PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is the type of plastic labeled with the No. 1 code on or near the bottom of bottles and containers and is commonly used to package a variety of goods ranging from soft drinks to household cleaning products, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources trade group.

The bottle initiative is one of several potential markets for Virent’s technology. Virent is also working with Shell on renewable gasoline and expects to bid for U.S. government contracts that would supply the military with renewable jet fuel.

Virent spokeswoman Kelly Morgan said the three firms were selected after a two-year review by Coca-Cola, which evaluated more than 30 different companies for its PlantBottle initiative.

Earlier this year, Pepsico Inc. announced that it was planning to roll out a 100% plant-sourced bottle, with pilot production set to start in 2012.

Virent is privately held. Shares of Gevo, which is publicly traded, jumped higher after the Coca-Cola Co. announcement. Its shares were up as much as 23% earlier Thursday and were up 15% about an hour before the close of trading on Wall Street.

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