THAILAND: Site for key bioplastics raw material to be picked soon

US-based NatureWorks LLC, the world's top bioplastics company, will decide this quarter whether Thailand will be the site of its new polylactic acid (PLA) plant.

Marc Verbruggen, president and chief executive, said his company was nearing a decision on the location of the plant, which will be operational in 2014 or 2015 and only the second of its kind in the world.

NatureWorks also owns the world's first PLA plant in Nebraska, which began operating in mid-2009.

"A number of variables are in play for us to make the final choice such as incentives on both a national and a regional basis, feedstock sourcing, labour, market developments and energy prices," he said.

Thailand, which has abundant supplies of sugar and cassava as raw materials, is one of four countries being considered along with Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore, each of which has a couple of possible sites.

The facility would have an annual production capacity of 140,000 tonnes.

"As part of the second-site evaluations, we have been talking with a number of different industries in the respective countries," said Mr Verbruggen while declining to name the companies.

However, executives of the giant oil and gas conglomerate PTT Plc earlier mentioned the company had been in talks with potential investment partners including NatureWorks for the joint development of an integrated PLA complex worth US$500 million to $600 million.

PTT is also considering Japan's Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation as another possibility.

The group's SET-listed subsidiary PTT Chemicals early this week said that it was studying the feasibility of building a $100-million biodegradable plastics plant.

The plant is expected to be up and running within the next five years to accommodate high demand in the packaging and agricultural sectors.

The cabinet on 28 Dec. approved an investment promotion package for the bioplastics industry in which pilot plants with annual production capacity of up to 10,000 tonnes will be built and operated within three years with partial public funding.

By formulating five supporting measures including investment privileges the government expects to have the country's first commercial-scale bioplastics plant onstream by 2015.

With annual PLA production capacity of 100,000 tonnes, investment in the plant would have to be 10 billion baht.(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)