Thailand’s Natureworks will use automation to produce bioplastics

Natureworks, a Minnesota company partly owned by Thailand’s PTT Group, said that it will invest in automation to increase output at its Thai bioplastics plant to 75,000 tons per year, blending Industry 4.0 technology with the bio-circular-green (BCG) economy.

Natureworks uses plant resources to manufacture bioplastics under the brand name Ingeo. Among the raw materials are corn starch and sugar cane. Thailand is the world’s second-largest exporter of sugar and corn farming has expanded rapidly in the Kingdom in recent years.

One solution of the plastic waste problem is greater use of bioplastics that eventually break down naturally without harming the environment. But bioplastics production needs to grow exponentially before it can replace petroleum-based polymers.

PTT is Thailand’s partially privatized state energy conglomerate and is a partner in Natureworks with Cargill of the U.S. PTT acquired its stake in Natureworks as a part of its efforts to transition away from petroleum-based products and manufacturing and towards BCG processes and goods.

Natureworks’ plant in Thailand is expanding. The company said that its output will increase by 260 percent by 2026. To achieve that, Natureworks has contracted a Swiss company ABB specializing in automation and other Industry 4.0 technologies, to help improve energy and production efficiency of its bioplastic manufacturing,

ABB said that it will deliver the hardware, software, control room design solutions, engineering, and site support to fully develop NatureWorks’ greenfield system.

“ABB’s global presence, especially in the U.S. and Thailand, combined with their deep expertise in the chemical industry, leading automation solutions, and design optimization approach, makes them the obvious choice for a partner to help achieve meaningful progress in our new plant,” said Steven Bray, Vice President at NatureWorks. “We also share a joint vision when it comes to resource efficiency, circular economy and sustainability.”

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