Coke Committed To PlantBottle Despite JBF’s Bio-based Ethylene Glycol Cancellation
Here's something that wasn't very well publicized: JBF Industries has cancelled its project to build a bio-based ethylene glycol plant in Brazil.
The company, and Indian polyethylene terephthalate producer, disclosed that it was putting the project "on hold" as part of its earnings back in August.
This is a far cry from the original announcement in September 2012, which took the form of a joint press release between JBF and Coca-Cola. JBF would have built a 500,000-metric-ton plant that would have derived ethylene glycol from cheap Brazilian ethanol. Coke would have used the glycol as part of its PlantBottle program, which incorporates bio-based glycol instead of synthetic glycol in the PET resins used in its soft drink bottles.
The Chemical Notebook learned about the JBF cancellation development at IHS's recent Latin American Petrochemical Networking Meeting. Otávio Carvalho, principal of the consulting group MaxiQuim, listed the cancellation in a presentation slide.
I asked Coca-Cola whether the cancellation had broader implications for the PlantBottle program. The company denied that it did. Coke blamed the cancelled project on "unexpected construction costs an a challenging economic environment". The company said further that it is in discussions with other firms on a new glycol project. The talks may proceed for several months. Coke doesn't expect such a plant to come onstream before 2016, which would amount to a delay of about a year versus JBF's plans.
Coke also said that it is still working with Virent, Gevo, and Avantium, on a route to a bio-based alternative to terephthalic acid.
The JBF project always seemed like a stretch. This is an Indian PET company, albeit with a good track record of building projects overseas, constructing a glycol plant in Brazil, a bio-based glycol plant at that. Braskem, Oxiteno, or Dow would have seemed like more likely candidates. I suspect a few such firms did sniff out the project two years ago and decided that the setup Coke had in mind wouldn't earn the cost of capital. (Actually, I know that one of the companies did exactly that at the time.)