TOKYO -- Toray Industries looks to tap sugar cane waste in Thailand to produce raw materials for biofuel, a revenue source that fits with the company's expansion plans.
The Japanese synthetic fibers giant plans to spend 5 billion yen to 6 billion yen ($42.5 million to $51 million) on construction of one of the world's largest plants for processing bagasse, the fibrous remnant obtained from crushing sugar cane to extract juice for sugar production.
Toray will form a joint venture with Japan's Mitsui Sugar in Bangkok this month, with Toray owning 67% and Mitsui Sugar holding 33%.
The plant in Udon Thani Province, scheduled to begin operations in August 2018, will have the capacity to churn out 1,400 tons of cellulose sugar annually for bioethanol, along with 450 tons of oligosaccharides and 250 tons of polyphenol for foods and fodder.
Toray can halve the energy costs related to the production process, using proprietary technologies for water purification membranes to reduce impurities in the bagasse-derived sugar solution by a factor of 10 and double the sugar concentration in the liquid.
The company is known as a maker of synthetic fibers, but has broadened to include uses for carbon fibers. Toray now is expanding its business with membranes and filters for water treatment and air purification, and the company sees biofuels as a next-generation revenue source leveraging these technologies.
Toray considers Thailand a growth market for biofuels. The country is Asia's largest sugar cane grower and the fourth largest in the world. In addition, the Thai government is subsidizing bioethanol-blended gasoline as part of a policy to promote the use of plant-derived fuels and reduce oil imports.
The Paris Agreement on climate change encourages the development of technologies and uses for biofuels as a renewable energy resource.