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Business trends

Thailand's Energy Absolute to pour $3bn into battery 'gigafactory'

Company negotiating with up to five partners including state oil group PTT

Energy Absolute CEO Somphote Ahunai poses next to the company's electric concept car at the Bangkok International Motor Show in March.

BANGKOK -- Thai renewable power technology company Energy Absolute plans to invest $3 billion in an enormous battery "gigafactory," betting electric vehicles and smart grids will soon catch on in Southeast Asia.

Deputy CEO Amorn Sapthaweekul told local media that the company is in talks with four or five Thai energy companies, including state-owned oil and gas group PTT, to share the investment.

Energy Absolute intends to make partnership decisions later this year. It plans to set up a joint venture with a partner to run the factory, taking a 51% stake.

The gigafactory plan is divided into two phases. The first features a plant with a production capacity of 1 gigawatt-hour, which is slated to open in the July-September period of 2019. Energy Absolute is expected to finance an investment of around 4 billion baht ($119 million) with its own capital.

The company aims to increase the capacity to 50 GWh in the second phase. That would make the plant larger than Japanese electronics maker Panasonic's 35 GWh factory for U.S. electric car maker Tesla in the state of Nevada.

In March, CEO Somphote Ahunai had told Nikkei the company may need a partner to carry out a big project.

Suntech Palm Oil, the predecessor of Energy Absolute, started out as a biodiesel manufacturer in 2006. The company changed its name in 2008 and went public in 2013. It has tapped into the renewable energy markets, including solar and wind power.

Energy Absolute posted a net profit of about 3.8 billion baht for the fiscal year through December, on sales of around 11.7 billion baht. It made Taiwanese battery maker Amita Technologies a subsidiary in 2017 to take advantage of the company's lithium-ion technology.

Chinese players loom large in the automotive battery market, including Contemporary Amperex Technology, or CATL, which debuted in Shenzhen in June. Electric cars and hybrids are still rare in Southeast Asia, but as that changes, Chinese suppliers will pose the biggest threat to Energy Absolute. Electric cars are already widespread in their home market and their products are considered cost competitive.

Energy Absolute also plans to set up 1,000 charging stations for electric cars in Bangkok and elsewhere by the end of the year, before pushing into batteries.

Amorn told a local newspaper that the company will secure good locations before competition starts, and that he believes electric vehicles will become popular sooner than anticipated.

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