Mitsubishi and PTT are moving forward with plans to make renewably-sourced poly(butylene succinate), PBS. PBS is biodegradable, but currently is made from petrochemical succinic acid and 1,4-butanediol. Bio-based versions of these monomers will be used at the new project in Thailand.
In September 2009, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, MCC, announced an exploratory joint development with Thailand's PTT, and it appears that the partnership is thriving. Yesterday, Japan Chemical Web quoted a Mitsubishi source saying that details of the new operation will be finalized by June or July. The capacity of the facility - a key indicator of the perceived value of the venture - is unknown.
MCC brings process technology for the manufacture of the succinic acid, and marketing power to sell the PBS through its existing GSPla brand. PTT will contribute expertise in operations and logistics.
The past year has been one of vigorous global activity in the commercialization of bio-based succinic acid. In addition to the Mitsubishi/PTT venture, plans for bio-based succinic acid production have been announced by BASF/Purac, DSM/Roquette, Myriant, and DNP/ARD.
If these efforts all come to fruition, worldwide production of succinic acid could increase by as much as 500% in five years. If that happens, we will be hearing a lot more about the virtues of plant-based succinic acid as the challenge shifts to marketing all of that new capacity.
Success or failure of biobased chemical production is more strongly governed by local economic forces than traditional petrochemical manufacturing. For this new PBS venture, Mitsubishi and PTT have a value chain that makes shrewd use of local factors. Locating the plant in Thailand means an inexpensive and stable supply of biomass, a lower-than-average cost of production, and access to an established market in Japan and growing markets in Asia as a whole.