Letters From The Earth

Coke gets it

By Calvin Frost, Contributing Editor | September 13, 2013

I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the items that I come across during my readings. Beach reading? Not quite, but I call this “summer” column a potpourri of information. I’ll return to my normal messages and ruminations in the next issue.

First, a fascinating story about the return of the recumbent spider silk. You may remember that there was a Canadian company trying to make spider silk from goat milk. I’m serious. This company had designed a super strong biomaterial called Biosteel, to be used in artificial ligaments and tendons as well as airbags and bullet proof vests.The goat milk had to go through extensive chromatographic separations before it could be mechanically wet-spun into fibers.The company, Nexia Technologies, went bankrupt in 2009.

What has now developed is a new composite spider silk fiber known as Monster Silk, and Big Red, the latter because it glows bright red under UV illumination.Kraig Biocraft in Lansing, MI is using transgenic silkworms combined with normal silkworms to make composite fiber. The transgenic silk acts as a reinforcement with the normal silkworm proteins to increase their strength. In March of this year Kraig announced that silkworms from its Monster Silk program had spun their first cocoons made of composite silk and the cocoons were being reeled. Wowzers, what next!

Coke gets it
Coca-Cola has been in the news recently with its PlantBottle and its Beachside Coke bottled in ice bottles. Yes, you read correctly, ice bottles!

Coke introduced PlantBottles in 2009. Today, 15 billion drinks have been sold globally. By 2020 Coca-Cola plans to make all of its PET bottles using first generation PlantBottle material. This first generation PlantBottle uses PET resin containing bio-based monethylene glycol (MEG).MEG is about 30% of the PET formulation.The other 70% is purified terephthalic acid (PTA). Over the next several years Coke will introduce the second generation PlantBottle which will be made from 100% plant based material.What is interesting to me is that Coke not only has invested millions with outside R&D firms to develop bio-based PTA but has also teamed with other major brand owners to support the development of alternatives to PET. It is complicated technology but simply speaking, PET is oil-based and MEG is plant-based. The other major brand owners are Ford, H.J. Heinz, Nike, and P&G; interesting partners and all looking for marketing advantages driven by sustainability. (Didn’t I predict this would happen almost 10 years ago?!)This change, from petro-derived resin to bio derived resin is a big deal because Coca-Cola is the biggest player in the PET resin industry. Coke can create a material which is far more sustainable than what we have today. Because they are global, the change will be global. And, ultimately, their entire supply chain will become more sustainable.

n Colombia, Coca-Cola has introduced “Botella de Hielo” or “Ice Bottle.” Coke is making bottles out of ice to be used on the beaches of Colombia. Micro-filtered water is poured into silicone molds, then frozen to -25°C. and filled with Coke. To ensure that customers don’t freeze their fingers, each bottle is wrapped with a rubber Coke logoed red band that allows the drinker to hold the ice bottle in comfort. Once the bottle melts the band can be used as a keepsake bracelet. Can you imagine walking the beach in Cartagena and seeing Coke bracelets on arms and ankles all over the beach!

Like MEG, PLA, polylactil acid, is first generation technology. Now comes second generation technology, maybe even third, as there is still so much work to be done. Calysta Energy and NatureWorks have collaborated to convert methane gas into lactic acid which is one of the most important building blocks for bioplastics.  NatureWorks, you may remember, developed PLA by fermenting corn and making a renewable bioplastic for packaging applications.Pretty exciting stuff, but nowhere near as exciting as their latest venture with Calysta Energy. Read below about this incredible development from Packaging Digest:

“Calysta Energy and NatureWorks have entered into an exclusive, multi-year collaboration to research and develop a practical, world-scale production process for fermenting methane-a potent greenhouse gas-to lactic acid, the building block for Ingeo, lactide intermediates and polymers made from renewable materials. If the collaboration results in the successful commercialization of this first-of-its kind technology, the cost to produce Ingeo would be structurally lowered, and the wide range of Ingeo based consumer and industrial products could be produced from an even broader set of carbon-based feedstocks, complementary to what is already in use by NatureWorks.

A greenhouse gas 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, methane is generated by the natural decomposition of plant materials and is a component of natural gas. Methane is also generated from society’s organic wastes and is produced from such activities as waste-water treatment, decomposition within landfills and anaerobic digestion. If successful, the technology could directly access carbon from any of these sources. Determining the feasibility of methane as a commercially viable feedstock for lactic acid may take up to five years, according to NatureWorks.

Currently, Ingeo relies on carbon from CO2 feedstock that has been fixed or sequestered through photosynthesis into simple plant sugars, known as first generation materials. NatureWorks’ flagship facility in Blair, NE, uses industrially sourced corn starch, while its second facility currently in planning for a location in Southeast Asia will use cane sugar. In parallel with the collaboration, NatureWorks is continuing its broad technology assessment of second generation: cellulosic sources of carbon. In the case of Southeast Asia, opportunities exist for harvesting cellulosic sugars from bagasse, an abundant lignocellulosic byproduct of sugarcane processing.

The research and development collaboration with Calysta Energy relates to NatureWorks strategic interests in feedstock diversification and a structurally simplified, lower cost Ingeo production platform. Calysta Energy is developing its BioGTCT (biological gas-to-chemicals) platform for biological conversion of methane to high-value chemicals. For NatureWorks, methane could be an additional feedstock several generations removed from simple plant sugars. The project will wrap up with an evaluation of potential sources of a methane feedstock for commercial scale production of lactic acid.”

Calysta and NatureWorks are looking at using byproduct to create bio-based materials that can be used instead of petrol based materials that are chemically transformed. Wow, these companies, Kraig Biocraft, Coca-Cola, and Calysta/NatureWorks get it. Monster Silk, PlantBottle, and methane into bioplastic are materials that enhance sustainability and reduce GHG which, in turn, reduce our carbon footprint.

Our industry needs the same creativity and imagination to take byproduct and convert it into useful applications. The first one there will hit a grand slam (no steroids required): Go, baby, go.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.