Low-Carbon Bioplastics Plant in Thailand to be Automated by ABB

By Bob Gill

Project Success Story

NatureWorks, manufacturer of polylactic acid (PLA), a low-carbon bioplastics made from renewable agricultural resources, has awarded ABB the contract to automate its new, greenfield plant in Thailand. Part of NatureWorks’ global expansion plan, the plant will help meet the growing global demand for sustainable materials. Bioplastics today represent less than one percent of all plastic produced globally, but production is expected to grow over 260 percent between 2020 and 2026.

ABB’s scope of work is a two-part order comprising a FEED (front end engineering design) study followed by Low-Carbon Bioplasticsdetailed automation project execution, with the company acting as the Main Automation Contractor (MAC) and responsible for providing hardware, software, control room design solutions, engineering, and site support. With the company’s Ability System 800xA as the core of the automation, the project will apply State Based Controls (SBC), enabling operators to take fewer interactions to start up a unit, and also implement ABB’s automated engineering batch application tool.

The Natureworks Thailand plant will ferment and distil plant-based sugars, converting the sugars first to lactic acid, then lactide and then polymerize them into Ingeo, an eco-friendly, biobased material used in a wide-range of plastic and fiber products, including compostable food packaging, 3D printing filament, diapers, and refrigerator liners.

Compared to traditional fossil-based polymers, manufacturing Ingeo produces approximately 80 percent less greenhouse gases and uses 52 percent less non-renewable energy. The facility will use sugarcane as feedstock and is set to produce 75,000 tons of sustainable plastic per year when fully operational. Projected start-up is in the second half of 2024.

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