The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, announced a multimillion dollar partnership agreement with three leading biotechnology companies to accelerate development of commercial solutions for next-generation PlantBottle packaging made from 100 percent plant-based materials. The company signed agreements with three industry leaders in developing plant-based alternatives to materials traditionally made from fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources which are as follows: Madison, Wis.-based Virent, Inglewood, Colo.-based Gevo and Amsterdam-based Avantium.

The beverage company conducted an in-depth two-year analysis of different technologies from more than 30 companies before partnering with these companies, explained Rick Frazier, vice president of commercial product supply for The Coca-Cola Co. during the company’s announcement of the partnership on Dec. 15. The Coca-Cola Co.’s first-generation PlantBottle packaging is a fully recyclable bottle made with up to 30 percent plant-based material made from mono-ethylene glycol (MEG). The remaining 70 percent of the bottle is made from purified terephthalic acid (PTA), which is the portion that The Coca-Cola Co. is partnering to replace with plant-based materials, the company said.

“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,” Frazier said 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.”

Agreements with the three companies will help The Coca-Cola Co. support its long-term commitments through sustainable practices in sourcing and packaging supply. While Virent, Gevo and Avantium will follow their own routes to make bio-based materials, all materials will be developed in line with The Coca-Cola Co. and industry recycling requirements.

Virent’s patented technology uses catalytic chemistry to convert plant-based sugars into products that are identical to those made from petroleum, according to the company’s Chief Executive Officer Lee Edwards. The company offers plant-based paraxylene, which it brands as BioFormPX. PET made from Virent’s bio-based paraxylene contains the same high quality and recyclability as materials used today, it said. Virent is targeting early 2015 for the opening of its first full-scale commercial plant. The majority of the paraxylene produced from Virent’s plant will be allocated for purchase by The Coca-Cola Co.’s supply chain partners, the company said.

Gevo’s technology is able to produce paraxylene from bio-based isobutanol, explained Patrick Gruber, chief executive officer of the company. It plans to convert renewable raw materials into isobutanol and renewable hydrocarbons that can be directly integrated on a drop-in basis to existing chemical and fuel products to deliver environmental and economic benefits, the company said.

Avantium has developed a bio-based poly-ethlyene-furanoate (PEF) plastic it has branded as YXY. The material uses plant-based materials as feedstock to enable the manufacture of more sustainable packaging materials, according to the company. Avantium has produced PEF bottles with promising barrier and thermal properties that are created in a production process that fits with existing supply and manufacturing chains, explained Tom van Aken, chief executive officer of the company. Avantium’s PEF pilot plant opened Dec. 8 in Geleen, the Netherlands.

“PEF is 100 percent bio-based and when commercialized will be fully recyclable,” von Aken said in a statement. “We believe that PEF fulfills key criteria to become a next-generation bio-based plastic for food, beverages and other applications. We are very excited about the co-development phase we are entering with The Coca-Cola Co. to continue the development of PEF and make this new material ready for mass production and recycling. Their leadership and experience in commercializing bio-based materials make them a great partner to work with as we commercialize this exciting new material.”

It is estimated that the use of PlantBottle packaging in the first two years of availability has helped save the equivalent annual emission of more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the company.

During the announcement, Frazier noted that he has issued a challenge to employees at The Coca-Cola Co. to develop bio-based label and closure materials that might someday complement the 100 percent plant-based bottle.