US-based advanced materials company, NatureWorks, has granted ABB, based in Zurich, Switzerland, a large contract to automate its new, greenfield factory in Thailand for processing sugar cane into Ingeo polylactic acid (PLA) biopolymer.
In a process similar to that of manufacturing beer or wine, the new plant in Thailand will ferment and distill plant-based sugars, turning them first to lactic acid, then lactide, and finally polymerizing them into Ingeo. These three independent production processes will be fully integrated at the new location, resulting in significant energy and production efficiency gains.
In addition, incorporating the fermentation phase will ensure lactic acid availability. When fully operational, the Thailand facility would use sugarcane as a feedstock and will manufacture 75,000 tonnes of sustainable plastic per year. This greenfield facility is expected to begin operations in the second part of 2024.
The scope of work for ABB is a two-part order that includes a front-end engineering design study and comprehensive automation project execution, with ABB serving as the primary automation contractor. NatureWorks' greenfield system will be fully developed thanks to ABB's hardware, software, control room design solutions, engineering, and site support. Through automation, ABB's market-leading Ability 800xA distributed control system will increase plant efficiency and reliability.
ABB will employ this technology to combine data from all critical systems into a single, user-friendly overview. As a result, operators will be able to use real-time data insights from all sections of the plant to improve efficiency, decrease risk, and optimize production.
State-based controls (SBCs) will be used in the project, allowing operators to start up a unit with fewer interactions and reduce risk by having access to the relevant information at the right time. This project will also make use of ABB's automated engineering batch application tool.
Steven Bray, vice president of operations and project program manager at NatureWorks, said that with its global presence, particularly in the United States and Thailand, and deep expertise in the chemical industry, leading automation solutions, and design optimization approach, ABB is the obvious choice for a partner to help them achieve meaningful progress in their new plant.
Bioplastics currently account for less than 1% of all plastic produced worldwide, but the output is predicted to increase by more than 260 percent between 2020 and 20261.
From compostable food packaging – coffee capsules, tea bags, food containers – to 3D printing filament, diapers, and even refrigerator liners, Ingeo is used in a wide range of plastic and fiber goods. Ingeo production emits 80 percent fewer greenhouse gases and requires 52 percent less non-renewable energy than standard fossil-based polymers.
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