Japanese firm plans to produce bioethanol and construct one of the ‘world’s largest’ bagasse processing plants

Toray Industries, a Japanese synthetic fibres company, is looking to obtain sugarcane waste in Thailand to produce biofuels.

The company plans to spend 5 billion yen (€40m) to 6 billion yen 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.

Thailand is one of the foremost producers of sugarcane in the world and is the largest exporter of sugar in Asia. It has been promoting biomass-based businesses as well as research and technology development and is suitable for pursuing the demonstration project.

The demonstration plant of this project will have a capacity to handle 15 tonnes of bagasse per day (dry weight) and will manufacture about 4.2 tonnes of cellulosic sugar annually for bioethanol after going through the processes of pretreatment, enzymatic saccharification, and membrane separation.

The pilot plant will employ concentration technology that uses Toray's water treatment membranes to produce high quality cellulosic sugar while conserving energy.

Cellulosic sugar can be used as a raw material for producing various biochemical products such as ethanol, lactic acid and succinic acid, and this would enable the creation of a new supply chain from surplus bagasse to biochemical products.

Further, in addition to cellulosic sugar, the plant will manufacture polyphenol and oligosaccharide, which can be made into livestock feed, using the same raw material and process to raise the economic benefit of using bagasse and the company will pursue commercialisation through the demonstration project.

Low-carbon economy

Toray places environment as the linchpin of its business strategy so as to contribute to the realisation of a sustainable low-carbon society, and under this management policy, the company has established itself as a pioneering comprehensive chemical manufacturer in Japan to promote LCM environment management based on the LCA concept.

The company is known as a maker of synthetic fibres, but has broadened to include uses for carbon fibres. 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.

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