Thai processor N.R. Rama Co. Ltd. is investing in the bio-based plastics market, hoping to take advantage of what it sees as increasing exports of environmentally friendly food packaging and more demand in the country.
The Samutprakarn, Thailand-based firm has invested about 30 million Thai baht ($903,000) in new equipment, including a blown film extrusion line, and land for a new factory in Chon Buri, Thailand, to focus on polylactic acid-based polymers, said Benjaporn Temprom, executive coordinator for the company.
The firm last year formed a subsidiary, Bio Green World Co. Ltd., along with investors from the Thai industrial and agricultural sectors. Rama plans to build the new factory in a year, with some financial support from the Thai government's National Innovation Agency, she said.
Temprom spoke in an interview at the ProPak Asia 2008 trade show, held June 11-14 in Bangkok.
Bio Green, which currently uses existing Rama facilities, plans to focus initially on PLA shopping bags, thermoformed products like coffee cups and blow molded bottles, she said. The company has had interest from Thai retailers in using bio-based shopping bags, she said.
Rama has a market development and technology transfer partnership with Taiwan's Minima Technology Co. Ltd., a compounder and equipment maker focused on the bio-based plastics market.
Minima, based in Taiping City, Taiwan, said it is certified to work as a compounder with PLA from NatureWorks LLC, a Blair, Neb.-based joint venture between American firm Cargill Inc. and Japan's Teijin Ltd.
Bio Green will buy PLA from Minima, and also has bought its biopolymer-film extruder from Minima. The Taiwanese company will provide Bio Green with technical guidance and formulas for compounding and processing PLA, using Bio Green's pilot compounding line, Temprom said.
The company sees potential in exports of PLA food packaging. Thailand, the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, is the world's largest producer of natural rice, canned and frozen seafood, canned tuna and pineapples, and the potato-like cassava, according to information provided by ProPak organizers.
The current domestic market for bio-based or biodegradable food packaging in Thailand is limited, because Thais are price-conscious and biopolymers cost two or three times as much as traditional plastics, she said.
Right now it is primarily food companies that export to Europe and North America that have approached Rama and are willing to pay those higher costs, she said.
The company also plans, in three years, to set up a pilot-scale facility for making PLA from cassava root, a common agricultural product in Thailand. Currently, cassava is cheaper than corn, the building block of NatureWorks' PLA, Temprom said.
The firm will invest about 100 million baht ($3 million) in the PLA plant, and is likely to seek financial support and promotion from the National Innovation Agency again, Temprom said.
N.R. Rama, an injection molder with a focus on pharmaceutical packaging, is part of Rama Group in Samutprakarn. Rama Group has other subsidiaries that make molds and equipment for the pharmaceutical industry, according to the firm's Web site.