Asia will have the largest capacity for bio-based PLA resins by 2020, surpassing North America, as plentiful feedstocks from agriculture and strong government incentive programs help push development there, according to a new analysis.
Worldwide polylactic acid resin capacity is estimated to rise from 401 million pounds a year in 2011 to 1.6 billion pounds in 2020, with Asian capacity projected to be just under half, with more than 771 million pounds, according to research from Thailand's National Innovation Agency and the Hürth, Germany-based Nova Institute GmbH. The data was presented at a recent conference in Thailand.
North America currently dominates PLA production, accounting for two-thirds of global capacity with more than 265 million pounds, and that's projected to grow to about 441 million pounds by 2020.
“The incentives, the packages from the governments that have been set in place, is one part of [why Asian capacity will grow rapidly],” said Wolfgang Baltus, senior project adviser for the Bangkok-based NIA. He noted that Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries in the region have government support for bio-based materials of all sorts.
“It is also, of course, the raw materials they have here,” Baltus said in a speech and interview at the Flexpo Bangkok conference, held Sept. 17-19. Flexpo is sponsored by Houston-based Chemical Market Resources Inc.
Baltus, who is part of a Nova Institute expert committee on bioplastics trends and helps the think-tank estimate Asian production, said the figures will be part of an upcoming Nova report.
The Asian domestic market demand for PLA remains weak, and that could mean that much of the added PLA production capacity in Asia will be exported, he said in his Flexpo presentation.
Thailand is hoping to become a bioplastics hub. In 2008, the Thai government began committing substantial research funding to bioplastics. Last year, the country's largest plastics maker, PTT Chemical Public Co. Ltd., bought 50 percent of major American PLA maker Natureworks LLC.
Natureworks currently makes 85 percent of the world's PLA, and even with global expansions by others, will still likely have more than 50 percent of global capacity by 2020, Baltus said.
The research also showed that Chinese PLA resin production volumes “collapsed” between 2007 and 2011, as companies there had problems with the quality of their lactic acid, a key building block of PLA, Baltus said.
Chinese exports of PLA dropped from 9.7 million pounds in 2007 to 522,000 pounds in 2009, and remained at those low levels in 2010 and 2011. That has boosted Chinese imports of PLA from about 2.6 million pounds in 2007 to 8.8 million pounds last year, he said.
Baltus said the report was developed with extensive interviews with more than 20 companies in the PLA production chain.