PTT Plc and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp.(MCC) are teaming up to develop the world's first factory to make biodegradable plastic from sugar.
Thailand's largest energy company and the world's fourth-biggest chemical producer will each hold 50% in a joint-venture company, PTT MCC Biochem Co, and the plant will be worth US$200 million (6 billion baht).
The plant will be designed to produce 20,000 tonnes a year of polybutylene succinate (PBS) and 36,000 tonnes of biosuccinic acid (BSA), a raw material for PBS.
Occupying a site at Map Ta Phut in Rayong, the plant is expected to be start commercial production in 2014.
The PBS plant will require about 54,000 tonnes of raw sugar per year.
PTT hopes the business will help to make Thailand the Asian hub for biodegradable plastic production given the abundance of sugarcane and cassava available locally.
"Demand for biodegradable plastic is getting higher each year, with a growth rate of 30% a year, although the development of this plastic in the global market is just in its first stage," PTT chief executive Prasert Bunsumpun said.
He said the two partners were also discussing budget allocation for research and development of biodegradable plastic for a variety applications such as shopping bags, food and beverage containers and automotive parts.
"This will be the platform of PTT's ambitious plan to develop other kinds of bioplastic products," said Prasert.
The company is also looking for strategic partners to help it develop polylactic acid (PLA), another type of biodegradable plastic. A decision is expected in three months and commercial operations to start by 2015. PLA and PBS are the major components of biodegradable plastic.
Once PLA and PBS output reach commercial scale, Thailand will be the world's first integrated biodegradable plastic producer made from agricultural raw materials, said Prajya Pinyawat, PTT's chief operating officer.
Currently, most bioplastic producers still mix crop-based raw materials with plastic derived from petroleum.
According to a forecast by Chemical Market Associates Inc (CMAI), global demand for bioplastic will grow at an average of 25 percent a year, compared with just 5 percent growth for conventional plastic. The volume of bioplastic will jump by six-fold to 1.2 million tonnes in 2020 from 200,000 tonnes last year.
"Bioplastic is a promising sector for Thailand to drive domestic economic growth following petrochemicals which earned export revenue of about 140 billion baht last year," said Prajya.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.