Stora Enso pushes ahead with bio-plastic alternative to PET

PEF: “all the features that society would like to see today”
PEF: “all the features that society would like to see today”

Stora Enso is poised to begin pilot production of a new, 100% bio-based alternative to PET plastics that it believes could be a “game changer” in the packaging industry.

The Finland-headquartered group has developed a breakthrough technology – FuraCore – to make organic chemical compound furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). 

FDCA is a key building block for bio-based plastics such as polyethylene furanoate (PEF), which is made from ingredients derived from plants rather than crude oil. 

“Not only do these [plants] grow back after harvesting, they also absorb carbon dioxide during their growth,” Stora Enso stated. 

The manufacturer believes the material could replace plastic bottles, aluminium cans and glass jars for a wide variety of uses. 

Dirk den Ouden, vice president of emerging business at Stora Enso’s Biomaterials division, said the PEF material has “all the features that society would like to see today”.

“It is bio-based, there are great barrier characteristics, and it can fit in the existing recycling structure. It is safe to say we have a plastic that has the potential to be a game changer in the packaging industry.”

The pilot plant to produce FuraCore is at Stora Enso’s Langerbrugge recycled paper mill near Ghent in Belgium. 

It is in the final stages of commissioning, and is expected to produce its first material in the autumn, with full production slated by the end of the year. 

Ultimately, Stora Enso is aiming to supply manufacturers in the global transparent rigid and flexible packaging industries “with a solution that contributes to sustainable, circular growth”.

As well as bottles, kegs and trays, future end-use applications for the material include pouches and films. 

Stora Enso said PEF material also had high heat resistance, making it suitable for hot fill as well as potential re-use after being washed. 

Regarding the complex issues of recyclability, Stora Enso noted: “At the end of its life, PEF can be recycled separately or together with PET, making it fit well into a circular economy model.”

Langerbrugge is one of the largest recycled paper mills in Europe. It produces 555,000 tonnes of recycled paper a year.

A separate feasibility study to convert one of its two lines to recycled containerboard production will be decided in H1 2023.