David Sudolsky, President & CEO of Anellotech, explains how his company’s thermal catalytic biomass conversion technology is helping to make 100% bio-based plastic bottles a reality.
Renewable materials for sustainable development
The past 3 years have been the hottest on record, and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirms that this is predominantly caused by man-made climate change. It has become clearer than ever that companies need to be part of the solution to provide increasingly renewable options as alternatives to carbon-intensive, petro-based products. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a bio-based economy based on renewable materials could tackle climate change, with its mitigation potential estimated at 2.5 billion tons CO2-equivalent per year by 2030.
While the packaging industry has made strides in reducing its carbon footprint, some areas still need improvement. For example, approximately 54 million tons of widely sought-after polymer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is manufactured globally. According to IHS Markit, PET usage in beverage bottles is expected to grow over 5% per year over the next 5 years – and most PET produced will still be petro-based.
Consumers and brand owners are demanding more products made from sustainable resources and many companies are seeking to meet this growth more renewably. Sustainable technology company Anellotech was founded in 2008 for this purpose and the company is aiming to create 100% bio-based drop-in aromatic chemicals from non-food biomass, often seen as a challenge due to a lack of efficient, cost-competitive and scalable processes. However, Anellotech’s thermal catalytic biomass conversion Bio-TCat technology is helping that goal become a reality.
Cost-competitive renewable chemicals from non-food biomass
Bio-TCat is a one-reactor catalytic process Anellotech jointly-developed with its R&D partners IFPEN and Johnson Matthey. Currently using wood as feedstock, in the future other biomass (corn stover, bagasse and other non-food materials) can be dried and ground. The biomass is rapidly heated, and the resulting gases are immediately converted into hydrocarbons by a reusable, sand-like zeolite catalyst. The resulting mixture of benzene, toluene and xylenes (BTX) is identical to petroleum-derived counterparts and can be further purified and separated by using well-known commercial technologies at either grassroots or existing petrochemical infrastructures.
Bio-TCat performs all process reactions in one fluid bed reactor, where biomass is thermally broken down and then catalytically converted into BTX. This single-step process uses a cost-effective catalyst jointly developed with Johnson Matthey to produce bio-based BTX in commercially-attractive yields.
By going directly from biomass to BTX in one step, the technology avoids highly-oxygenated bio-oil intermediate products, often seen in multi-step pyrolysis processes, thereby avoiding the need to add significant amounts of costly hydrogen, a byproduct stream that Anellotech plans to burn to generate electricity or that could alternatively be converted to a renewable source of hydrogen via a water-gas shift reactor.