Thai firm planning first ethanol-from-cassava plant


A local oil retailer and a company that produces tapioca products have joined forces to invest in a plant that will produce the biofuel ethanol from cassava pulp, the first such plant in the world.

The companies said the plant is expected to be up and running and turning out over 50,000 gallons a day by 2020. The venture fits neatly into Thailand’s national effort to increase its development of green energy and source 25 percent of all its energy from renewable sources by 2036.

The companies investing in the project are PTG Energy and Eiamburapa, a producer of tapioca products. They have formed a new company to run the project called Innotech Green Energy, in which PTG holds a 60 percent stake and Eiamburapa holds 40 percent. The two companies formed the joint venture in November 2016 and registered with the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

Innotech signed a licensing agreement with Sapporo Holdings, Japan’s top brewery, to use technology Sapporo developed for commercial production of ethanol. Sapporo is the owner and patent holder of a yeast breed that can produce sugar from cassava pulp. The signing ceremony was held last week in Bangkok to mark the start of the project.

Construction on the new plant is scheduled to start next year and the facility will be located in northeastern Sa Kaew province not far from the border with Cambodia.

PTG president and chief executive Pitak Ratchakitprakarn said ethanol from cassava pulp is expected to be cheaper than other forms of gasohol. He said PTG expects to produce an average of 125,000 gallons of ethanol per day from various source materials for gasohol products in its retail business when the plant is completed. Demand for ethanol for gasohol production would rise to 177,000 gallons in 2018 and reach 400,000 gallons in 2020.

PTG is a listed company on the Thai stock exchange that operates 10 refineries and tank farms and a string of over 200 service stations around the country. It produces both diesel and gasohol. The gasohol it produces now is made mainly from palm oil, which is plentiful in the region. Palm oil, however, has a bad reputation among environmentalists and green advocacy groups who claim that the expansion of palm oil plantations has destroyed rainforests and wildlife.

Eiamburapa is based in Sa Kaew province and produces high-quality tapioca starch for domestic and export markets as well as biogas. Cassava plantations have not suffered from the criticisms that have been directed at palm oil plantations by environmentalists.

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