The ground breaking ceremony which took place on November 9th, 2016 marked the official start of construction of the new PLA bioplastics polymerization plant at the existing Corbion site in Rayong (Thailand). Upon completion in 2018, it will be able to produce the complete Luminy® portfolio of PLA neat resins: from standard PLA to innovative, high heat resistant PLA, the range of which was recently showcased at the K2016 in Düsseldorf
The plant will have a nominal capacity of 75,000 tons per annum and will use Corbion’s and Sulzer’s proprietory polymerization technology. Key equipment will be supplied by Sulzer Chemtech Ltd (Switzerland).The capex for the plant is reported to be 140 million USD.
In his speech, Tjerk de Ruiter highlighted the importance of this milestone: “At Corbion, we believe in building a great future for the people of today and generations to come … that’s what we do here in Thailand with the construction of this plant, biobased and biodegradable plastics will certainly help to minimize adverse impacts on human health and the environment.” He added: “We are now entering the next stage of construction, and we are confident that our world-class facility will deliver the innovative solutions that our customers are seeking.”
In addition to the construction of this new PLA polymerization plant, Corbion will expand its existing lactide plant in Thailand by 25,000 tons per annum. With this expansion, Corbion will be able to serve its current and future lactide customers. The lactide expansion will also enable the production of a wider range of lactides than is currently possible.
The targeted start-up date for the PLA polymerization plant and the lactide expansion is in the second half of 2018.
During my visit to Corbion’s booth at K2016, Julia Lovett, Marketing Communications Manager Bioplastics, and I had an interesting conversation on partnerships in the bioplastics sector. Without unveiling anything gave me the information that an interesting one would be announced soon by Corbion.
This came on Novembre 16 with Corbion announcing they would form a 50/50 joint venture with Total to produce and market polylactic (PLA) polymers. The new JV will be based in the Netherlands and will launch operations in the 1st quarter of 2017, subject to regulatory approvals. Both Corbion’s plants in Rayong, the new PLA polymerization plant and the expanded lactide plant will be transferred to the assets of the JV.
Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Corbion, stated: “PLA is one of the first renewable, biodegradable polymers able to compete with existing polymers. The joint venture will combine Total’s technical and marketing knowledge and leading position in polymers with Corbion’s expertise in lactic acid and biopolymers. It, will enable us to supply innovative products and will accelerate market acceptance.”
“I’m very pleased with this joint venture, which aims to become a major player in the growing bioplastics market. This investment is consistent with our One Total ambition of expanding in biofuels and bioplastics, in addition to our more traditional oil- and gas-based products,” commented Bernard Pinatel, President of Total Refining & Chemicals. “Corbion’s unique position in the lactic acid and biopolymers value chain makes it a natural choice for Total. The joint venture will allow us to supply an innovative material that is 100% renewable and biodegradable and that responds to sustainability concerns.”
For Total, this step corresponds to an industrial and commercial size entry into the PLA market and bioplastics at large. PLA is not new to Total which owned a stake in Futtero, a JV with Galactic (Belgium). Futtero owns and and operates a demo plant of 1500 tons per annum capacity in Escanaffles (Belgium), commissioned in 2010. Total had sold its stake in Futtero to Galactic in January 2016 sailing away to another playing field with another partner and a more promising industrial technology.
PLA is a biobased, biodegradable polymer obtained by fermenting renewable resources (sugar or starch) to produce lactic acid. PLA is mainly used for food packaging, disposable tableware and textiles, as well as in numerous other industries such as oil and gas, electronics, automotive and 3D printing.
PLA is a fast-growing polymer market segment, with an estimated average annual growth rate of 10 to 15% to 2025.