Thailand grows as bioplastic hub, garners new $490 million investment

02, Jun. 2021

Thailand’s status as a major producer of sugarcane, together with its strategic location and strong logistics networks have made the country the leader in bioplastics production in Southeast Asia, according to Thailand Board of Investment (BOI). (Photo: Thailand BOI)
Thailand’s status as a major producer of sugarcane, together with its strategic location and strong logistics networks have made the country the leader in bioplastics production in Southeast Asia, according to Thailand Board of Investment (BOI). (Photo: Thailand BOI)

BANGKOK, NNA - Thailand's new quest to grow a BCG or bio-circular-green economy has the support of another backer injecting $490 million (15 billion baht) for the production of polylactic acid, an emerging, eco-friendly bioplastic in the growing circular economy.

NatureWorks Asia Pacific Co. will produce approximately 75,000 tons of the low-carbon-footprint polymer derived from agricultural feed stocks at a new plant in the kingdom.

The resin is used to make biodegradable products such as compostable food containers and filaments for 3D printing, hygiene masks and household appliances.

Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) said the country’s status as a major producer of sugarcane, together with its strategic location and strong logistics networks have made it the leader in bioplastic production in Southeast Asia, and also a favorite destination for investment in this fast-growing sector.

From 2015 to March 2020, BOI has approved a total of 21 projects in the bioplastic value chain, from upstream to downstream, with a combined investment value of over 31 billion baht. Most of these projects have already started production.

Among them are regional and local players including Japan's Mitsubishi Chemical Corp.

PTT MCC Biochem, a joint venture between Thailand's PTT Global Chemical PCL, and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. (MCC), has also received BOI's investment incentives for its production in Rayong province.

In 2019, the world's second largest PLA plant was opened in Thailand by Total Corbion PLA (Thailand) Ltd., a joint venture between French energy group Total and Amsterdam-based biochemicals company Corbion.

Duangjai Asawachintachit, secretary general of BOI, said, "Our strong agricultural base offers the required raw materials, while our logistics networks and strategic location enable companies to realize the full potential of their investment."

The NatureWorks plant will be located at the Nakhon Sawan Biocomplex, a project established in line with the country's strategic BCG growth plan. The complex is located some 200 kilometers north of the capital of Bangkok.

NatureWorks Asia Pacific is a wholly owned subsidiary of US-based NatureWorks LLC, a leading global producer of polylactic acid (PLA) marketed under its Ingeo trademark.

While chemically produced petroleum-based plastic takes many years to degrade biologically, PLA, which is recyclable and compostable, can be converted into carbon dioxide and water within a few years.

Hence, it has great potential as a sustainable alternative in the plastic market. PLA is being used in making food packaging, automobiles, textiles, foams and films in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific, according to Ecomena, a consultancy firm.

Europe is the dominant market for biodegradable polymers, accounting for more than half of the world's consumption.

The global bioplastic production is expected to show dynamic growth, rising from about 2.1 million tons in 2019 to 2.4 million tons in 2024, according to European Bioplastics, an association representing the interests of the industry.

This is driven by the steadily increasing demand for sustainable products from consumers and brands. Continuous efforts of the bioplastic industry to develop innovative materials with better properties and new functionalities also help to support growth.