Producing large quantities of PET packaging for the beverage industry can be a drain on resources and potentially harmful to the environment. Beverage Packaging Innovations speaks to Mario Barbieri at M&G International about how the company's strong focus on R&D, in combination with the company's EasyUp technology, creates an optimistic view of the future for PET.
When it entered the packaging business in 2000, R&D was a core focus for M&G International and it's clearly still a matter close to the company's heart. With a large portion of its revenues invested in two R&D centres - one in Italy, the other in the US - that dedicate a lot of work to process technology development, M&G is well equipped to take on its latest project in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the world's largest PET/PTA plant is currently under construction.
PET materials have recently become more cost-effective than ever; an occurrence that is highly advantageous to M&G. A couple of years ago, crude oil was over $100 a barrel, and PET was already competitive as a packaging material versus glass, cans, paperboard and other plastics such as polyethylene. In the past two years, the drop in crude prices has led to a drop in PET cost.
All in all, it stands M&G's involvement with the Corpus Christi project in very good stead - as does the company's space and cost-effective technology, EasyUp.
"It's the bulk of our proprietary technology," says Mario Barbieri, executive director of M&G. "In PET production, you essentially have two steps; the first is to polymerise the raw materials, and then the second is to increase the viscosity of the resin and make it suitable for packaging."
In this second step, one would normally need to build a very tall tower where the process to increase the viscosity can take place - the higher the throughput and the bigger the production, the taller the tower.
"Of course there are limitations on how high you can go with an industrial plant and it also becomes very expensive," says Barbieri. "EasyUp is a technology by which we increase the viscosity using a horizontal reactor. So, we don't need to build a tall building and therefore we have no limitations on the size, essentially, of the plant."
For the Corpus Christi project, M&G decided to go ahead and apply this technology to build a very large PET plant, despite already having two of the largest PET single lines in the world - one in Mexico that produces 450,000t a year, built in 2003, and then in 2007 the company built a plant in Brazil capable of producing 650,000t annually.
"And now we're building a greater-than-1.1-million-ton-a-year plant, still on a single line," explains Barbieri. "Just for comparison, the largest line with a competitive technology is between 200,000 and 250,000t a year. So this plant will be about four times bigger than any similar plants. Additionally, we are going to integrate the main raw material into this facility, so we're also building a PTA plant of 1.3 million tons a year, and this will allow us to fully use the latest generation technologies."
M&G is planning to begin PET production in Q4 this year and gradually ramp up the capacity so that it will be fully functional for the whole of next year. All supplies will be co-located so there'll be no need to transport the main raw material for PTA production, as it is produced on site. From a cost and an environmental impact standpoint, M&G has chosen an extremely efficient location, and Corpus Christi looks set to be another success for the company.
Finally, Barbieri is keen to add that while the company is about to start PET production in Corpus Christi, it still sees
great potential in the short term for converting glass or other packaging material to PET, and, in particular, to barrier PET where it has a strong competitive advantage and a unique proprietary technology - BicoPET; This allows M&G to have a very efficient product offering, under the brand name PoliProtect, which is the perfect barrier resin for such applications as beer, juice, ketchup, wine, sparkling water and dairy products.