Back in 2003, Thailand saw an opportunity, and decided to take it. The country already had an established plastics industry, plus cheap and abundant sources of feedstock from its agricultural industry, and it decided to take a gamble on bioplastics. Today, Thailand is on the fast track to become the bioplastics hub of the ASEAN region - within another three years, if it's up to Science and Technology Minister Worawat Uea-apinyakul. How did they do it?
A feasibility study conducted by the Thai government in 2004 showed that Thailand boasted a number of important advantages, including existing capabilities and infrastructure. Thailand had, and has the region's largest plastics processing industry and can therefore take advantage of a wide availability of knowledge and experience in the industry. It was therefore decided to go ahead with the development of a bioplastics industry. In 2006, the government commissioned the Thai National Innovation Agency to draft a roadmap for the development of the Thai bioplastics industry. This roadmap was officially approved by a Cabinet resolution in 2008.
Thailand walked the walk
Four strategies were set out in the five-year Bioplastics Roadmap. Specified for each strategy were: target identification, indicators, action plans, responsible agency, functions of each agency and a budget for implementation. These four strategies were also forward-looking and long-term, designed to promote comprehensive development of the new industrial sector, rather than simply a fast return on investment.
The first strategy, for example, was to ensure a sufficient supply of biomass feedstock. It was specifically stated that this was not to interfere with the food supply, and that technology was to be developed "to ensure that the bioplastics production can reach the break-even point and to prevent various problems on the crop cultivation including the destruction of an ecosystem balance." Other strategies included investments to accelerate technology development and technology cooperation, and the need to establish supportive infrastructure. At the policy level, a range of measures were envisaged to support production and encourage the use of bioplastics, including procurement policies, taxation, and public relations, and pilot schemes and compliance with international standards. Tax breaks were announced in the form of corporate income tax exemptions for companies active in eco-friendly chemicals manufacturing and eco-friendly products manufacturing.
In short, Thailand went all out to create a business, intellectual, industrial and social setting in which the bioplastics industry could develop and grow.
Currently, phase 2 of Thailand's Bioplastics Roadmap (2011-2015) is underway. Again, the government has committed substantial funds towards boosting investment in the Thai bioplastics industry, including providing a grant worth THB 300 M (about $10 million) for the construction of a bioplastic resin pilot plant with a production capacity of 1000- 10,000 tons per year, based on a public- private (30:70) co-investment. Note: the call for proposals for building the plant remains open until March 31, 2013.
In addition, the government is considering supportive measures such as providing low-interest soft loans (2% interest for 8 years) for investors in the bioplastics and biochemical industries as well as other fiscal measures, which remain to