Thailand's government plans to spend 1.8 billion baht ($53.5 million) over five years to try to turn the country into a regional leader in bioplastics, taking advantage of its position as Southeast Asia's largest plastic product exporter and its sizable agricultural industry.
Thailand's cabinet July 22 approved funding for a bioplastics ``road map'' that aims to develop local production of polylactic acid, made from cassava flour and other materials like sugar, to further fund research and develop industry standards.
Thailand may have a cost advantage in making PLA because of its abundant supplies of cassava and a strong plastics processing industry, said Somsak Borrisuttanakul, president of the Bangkok-based Thai Bioplastics Industry Association.
The industry will focus on exporting bioplastics to Europe, Japan and the United States, rather than the domestic market, he said. It will most likely need to bring in foreign technology, he said.
It also is important to bring down the price of bioplastics because it remains at least three times the price of traditional petrochemical plastics, Borrisuttanakul said.
A Thai government report said cassava-based flour is the cheapest flour in the world, and it said Thailand is the world's largest exporter of cassava. The country also is one of the world's largest rice producers.
The government wants to find more valuable markets for cassava to help the country's farmers, and is focusing on using cassava for both bioplastics and biofuels, said Vichian Suksoir, manager of the project development department for Thailand's National Innovation Agency, which is charged with implementing the bioplastics road map.
While all of Thailand's PLA is imported now, Suksoir said the government would like to see several PLA resin production plants develop in Thailand. He said the government wants to develop a bioplastics industrial park and could contribute up to 25 percent of the funding for industry bioplastics facilities.
The decision was welcomed by local industry, which said the funding culminates long discussions with the government.
``We think this is a good opportunity,'' said Benjaporn Temprom, executive coordinator with Thai processor N.R. Rama Co. Ltd., which started a bioplastics subsidiary last year. ``It's pretty clear that [the government] supports us and the bioplastics industry.''
The Thai government road map calls for spending about 1 billion baht ($29.7 million) on developing new technologies; 100 million baht ($3 million) on research to improve the readiness of local materials for bioplastics production; 475 million baht ($14.1 million) on industry development; and 225 million baht ($6.7 million) to promote industry standards and raise public awareness.
NIA said it has worked previously on several bioplastics research projects.
The government also said it sees bioplastics as easing global warming and reducing the country's plastic waste disposal costs.