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PEF – Introducing a Sustainable Material Alternative for Packaging

PEF – Introducing a Sustainable Material Alternative for Packaging

It is regarded as THE packaging material of the future: PEF. But what do these three letters stand for? And above all: what is behind them? In this article, we introduce you to PEF in more detail. We look at the production, properties and advantages of the material. You will also find out which company will be the first to use PEF for its products.

What is PEF?

PEF (polyethylene furanoate) is a 100% plant-based, recyclable polymer. The innovative material can be used in a variety of ways and is intended in particular as a more environmentally friendly and functional packaging alternative to PET (polyethylene terephthalate).

The Dutch company Avantium is responsible for the discovery of the completely bio-based plastic. It has developed the so-called YXY technology, which makes it possible to convert plant sugars into a completely recyclable polymer.

PEF consists primarily of FDCA (2,5-furandicarboxylic acid). This main building block can be produced from the sugars in wheat, maize and sugar beet, for example. FDCA is polymerized with plant-based MEG (monoethylene glycol) to finally obtain PEF.


Properties and advantages of the new material

In principle, PEF impresses with its powerful combination of increased sustainability and superior functionality compared to PET. It has an improved barrier effect against carbon dioxide and oxygen, which extends the shelf life of products packaged in PEF. The material is also associated with higher mechanical strength. This means that packaging can be produced with thinner walls, which in turn means that fewer resources are required and the weight of the packaging is reduced.

Combined with the fact that PEF is composed of plant-based raw materials, these functionally advantageous characteristics give the material all the properties it needs to become the polyester of the next generation.

Here are some concrete figures on the impressive functionality of PEF compared to PET:

– 10 times better oxygen barrier
– 6 to 10 times better CO2 barrier
– Twice as good a water barrier
– 12 °C more heat-resistant (glass transition temperature of 86 °C vs. 74 °C)
– more energy-saving recyclable (melting point of 235 °C vs. 265 °C)
– 50 to 70 % lower CO2 footprint
– Reduced weight by more than 20

PEF is also impressive in terms of recyclability. The material has been proven to harmonize with existing sorting and recycling systems. In addition, it can replace the currently difficult-to-recycle coatings used in multilayer packaging solutions.
Consumers can throw bottles made from PEF into the same deposit machines as PET. The European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) has provisionally approved the recyclability of polyethylene furanoate (PEF) in the European recycling market for bottles, although a separate recycling stream would have to be set up for final recycling.

Possible applications of PEF

The use of PEF is particularly suitable for beverage bottles, but also for the production of fibers and films. In all three areas, the material ensures a lower CO2 footprint and acts as a recyclable alternative to packaging formats that are difficult or impossible to recycle. In this sense, PEF makes a valuable contribution to the desired circular economy.

PEF bottles

Compared to bottles made from conventional materials, bottles made from PEF guarantee a longer freshness and shelf life for fruit juices, smoothies, beer, water and so on. The material can also be used to create visually appealing bottle designs.

In addition to monolayer PEF, a combination of the bioplastic with other materials can also be used for the production of bottles, although composite materials are not the optimal solution from an ecological point of view, even with a high PEF content.

PEF can replace the following bottle materials:

– Glass
– Aluminum
– paper
– Multilayer bottles

PEF fibers

PEF fibers are extremely robust and are recommended for various applications, such as textiles, upholstery and car tires. The material is also suitable for the production of sustainable industrial fibers.

PEF can replace the following fiber materials:

– nylon
– cotton

PEF films

PEF films make fresh products last longer. This makes them particularly suitable for food packaging, of course. However, there are also numerous products in the non-food sector that benefit from the strong barrier effect of PEF film.

PEF can replace the following film materials:

– Glass
– aluminum
– paper
– Multilayer packaging

The world’s first application on the market by Albert Hejn


Albert Hejn is a Dutch supermarket chain and is considered a pioneer in the practical application of PEF. The company is converting its own-brand fruit juice bottles to the plant-based material in collaboration with Avantium and the international drinks manufacturer Refresco.

However, preparations still need to be made before the market launch actually takes place. Avantium is currently building the world’s first commercial plant for five kilotons of FDCA. Commercial production is scheduled to start in the second half of 2024. After that, nothing should stand in the way of the premiere for food packaging made from PEF.

Conclusion and outlook

PEF is already associated with numerous environmental and functional benefits. However, the material has even more potential. In all likelihood, it can also be produced from cellulose – i.e. from agricultural and forestry waste streams – once the technology is fully developed.

In general, researchers around the world are working meticulously on various ways to produce PEF. For example, scientists at Stanford University in California have found a way to produce FDCA from carbonate, CO2 and plant residues such as grass or wood chips. Why don’t they want to use sugar as a raw material like Avantium? Because they are critical of the potential competition with food cultivation.

All in all, PEF is definitely still in its infancy. However, with the development of the material, Avantium has taken a significant step towards more sustainable and functional packaging solutions that can help companies from various industries to further reduce their carbon footprint in the future.

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