Thailand Wants Biolubes Industry

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Thai officials working to foster agriculture-based industry have highlighted lubricants as one of two types of products offering the best opportunity for profitability and economic development.

The Office of Industrial Economics, part of the central government’s Ministry of Industry, published a report last month concluding that the government should encourage development of businesses that produce lubricants from palm oil and amino acids from sugarcane and cassava for human and animal foods.

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Among goals set by the report is one aim of helping at least one biolubricant plant to open by 2024.

Officials also said that one linchpin to the overall initiative is the development of a large refinery making fuels from plant materials. The government is working to build such a facility in an economic development zone in Southeastern Thailand, but the project has been delayed and is not expected to open before 2024.

The report is part of the Thai government’s BCG model of economic development that supports bio-industry that uses agricultural crops, is circular and green, or environmentally friendly. The idea is to replace petrochemicals and other products with business that is more sustainable.

Thailand already has significant sugarcane and cassava industries and is working now to encourage establishment of oil palm plantations. Oil palm is the world’s biggest source of vegetable oil, including plant oils used to make base stocks for biolubricants. Southeast Asia is already the world’s biggest source of palm oil, as Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s largest producers.

Thai officials want to shift the country’s economy away from fossil fuels and petrochemicals, instead toward businesses that provide outlets for agriculture. The report’s authors selected lubricants and amino acids from a long list of products that use crops because of their profitability, prospects for growth and the presence of some of the existing infrastructure necessary for such operations.

They view a biofuels refinery as providing important scale to demand for the crops around which the model is based. The government has established an economic zone named the Eastern Economic Corridor for Innovation in Wang Chan District that is intended to become a hub for bio-based industry. The National Science and Technology Development Agency contracted German engineering firm Glatt in 2020 to design the refinery, but the project has been delayed, and officials said recently it would not open before 2024.

The Office of Industrial Economics’ report called for a long list of policy actions to support biolubricants and amino acids businesses, including appointment of a board to oversee the initiative and adoption of laws that encourage or require the use of such products.

The report can be downloaded with this link: https://www.oie.go.th//assets/portals/1/files/study_report/Biorefinery2021.zip