A New Dawn
Developing Thailand’s Vision of A Sustainable, Technology-driven Future
There has never been a more significant time in history for countries, companies, communities and individuals to steer towards a sustainable future. Since 2015, when the United Nations set their 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030, governments and businesses around the world have increased efforts to address the environmental, social and economic challenges of today, to create a better tomorrow.
In 2019, Thailand has moved up 19 places in its SDG ranking to 40th place globally, and first in ASEAN.
With its cultural heritage, flavorful food and seemingly endless white beaches of its many islands, the Kingdom of Thailand has long been known as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
But Thailand isn’t just a tourist hub. For decades, it’s been pushing for a technology-driven and sustainable future as a ‘bio-hub’.
For the last few years, the Thai government has been implementing Thailand 4.0, a value-based economic model driven by innovation, creativity and technology focused on social and environmental sustainability.
Thailand 4.0 is in line with the country’s SDGs and the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021) to elevate Thailand from a middle-income to a high-income nation by using technology and innovation, all while making the environment a priority.
One of the key industries Thailand 4.0 is focusing on is bioeconomy, which is made up of environmentally-friendly industries such as bioenergy, biochemicals and biopharmaceuticals.
As one of only around 50 countries with bioeconomy-related policies, Thailand’s bioeconomy is now coming of age. Its key infrastructure initiatives include state-of-the-art, technology-focused facilities such as cutting-edge R&D centers, science parks nationwide and the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor of Innovation (EECi). For companies interested to invest in Thailand’s new green economic growth engine, opportunities are abundant, including a corporate income tax exemption for up to 13 years.
The right place for bioeconomy to thrive
For Thailand, a nation with a history of agriculture-based GDP, bioeconomy offers a more productive and prosperous future.
Thailand’s Bioeconomy projection% of GDP
A strong bioeconomy doesn’t develop on its own, and not every country has the competitive advantage for bioindustries that Thailand has. There are several reasons for this.
One is the Kingdom’s wealth of natural resources and rich biodiversity.
Thailand is home to about 8% of the world’s plant and microorganism species, which play an important role in developing bio-based products and sustainable new processes, mainly in agriculture1. With its position as the world’s number one exporter of cassava, and its second-largest exporter of sugar and rice, Thailand’s opportunity to build a circular and sustainable economy is vast.
THAILAND’S HIGH VALUE ECONOMIC CROPS
But it isn’t just nature that provides the competitive advantage. The Thai government has invested in the development of its bioeconomy for many years. It started in 1983, when they established the premier research institute BIOTEC, the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. BIOTEC has over 30 laboratories researching biotechnology; energy and environment; agriculture and food; and health and medicine2.
Now, the government will deliver its vision of a green economy by investing in the development of new high-tech facilities and centers to bridge the country’s natural resources with technology. These include projects in the EECi such as Biopolis, an innovation platform that will open in October 2020 with the aim of bringing Thailand to the forefront of bioindustry3.
A closer look at bioeconomy in Thailand
Bioeconomy uses renewable biological resources and its waste to produce everything from food to medicine and bioenergy4. In short, growing the bioeconomy creates outsized and sustainable economic value from a country’s waste products and resources.
Industries that merge nature with technology are key to growing Thailand’s bioeconomy as well as preparing the country for the future.
This is why biotechnology, a framework which can be applied to industries such as biopharmaceuticals, biochemicals and bioenergy, has seen rapid growth in the past few years. Thailand is in an exceptionally advantageous position to establish itself as a regional leader; it’s not only a first mover in ASEAN, but can also make use of the value of biotechnology for which the global market is expected to reach USD775 billion by 20245.
As its population grows, the need for sustainable agriculture and food products will increase. As the country moves to become a high-income society, personal energy consumption is expected to increase, making the production of renewable energy and bioenergy even more important.
Anticipating energy sustainability challenges in the future, Thailand is making bioenergy production an extremely important focus for the years ahead. Bioenergy allows for the production of a number of alternative and sustainable fuels, called biofuels. Promoting the use of biofuels like ethanol, biodiesel and biogas is key to reducing dependence on coal, oil and natural gas.
The expected outcomes from Bioeconomy within 10 years
How will Thailand’s domestic bioresources help it advance its pursuit of a sustainable future?
Thanks to its natural resources, Thailand produces more than 50% of the world’s cassava and 9.4% of the world’s sugar. Both produce ethanol, a biofuel which can drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. For example, it can replace gasoline as a fuel for cars. Brazil, the world’s largest sugar exporter and sugarcane ethanol producer, has reduced CO2 emissions by 350 million tons since 2003.
Thailand currently has the potential to produce 4.8 million liters of ethanol per day, nearly double the 2.65 million per day produced in 2015. That’s equal to 11.3 million liters of fossil fuels per day, replaceable by renewable energy.
The opportunities are rich and there are many Thai companies leading the charge in driving the country towards a greener future.
One of the key players is Mitr Phol Group, Asia and Thailand’s largest sugar and bioenergy producer, and the fourth-largest sugar producer in the world. The company creates value all along the sugar supply chain, from cane-crushing to organic fertilizers for farmers. It’s an example of the development of the Thai agriculture sector towards a sustainable future, aiming also to increase the productivity and income of the farmers.
“Thailand is regarded as a role model for other South East Asian countries when it comes to sustainable development,” said Mr. Pravit Prakitsri, Chief Operating Officer of Mitr Phol’s Energy Business Group.
With over a decade of experience, Mitr Phol Group has developed its own technologies to improve the process of ethanol production. They manage five ethanol plants with production expected to reach 410 million liters in 2019, and have also exported over 110 million liters of ethanol to the Philippines and South Korea.
WASTE TO VALUE MODEL:
From sugarcane to
Based on a 2012 US Department of Energy study, using ethanol as a biofuel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 19 to 48%. This will help achieve Thailand’s goal of a 20 to 25% carbon dioxide reduction by 2030, pledged at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21).
Bioeconomy is the catalyst for a sustainable Thailand 4.0
With Thailand’s commitment to develop infrastructure, improve the investment ecosystem and promote the use of advanced technology, science, and innovation, the country’s bioeconomy is set to flourish and fulfil its Thailand 4.0 goals.
It’s a new dawn for Thailand as it gets set to lead the way in turning the nation into a bio-hub in ASEAN and the world. With a visionary strategy backed by rich resources, it will continue to offer investment opportunities for businesses. The Thailand 4.0 initiatives will be fundamental in developing the region’s potential as a dynamic value-based economy.
The future of Thailand is one of sustainable energy, sustainable innovation and sustainable development where nature and technology transform the lives of its people, in the country and beyond.
Sources:Board of Investment Thailand, Mitr Phol, Sustainable Development Solutions Network,
Ptit.org, Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency.
- 1 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257525957_Biotechnology_Role_Of_Microbes_In_Sustainable_Agriculture_And_Environmental_Health
- 2 https://www.sciencepark.or.th/index.php/en/innovation-community/BIOTEC/
- 3 https://www.eeci.or.th/en/The-Area-Of-Biopolis/
- 4 https://ec.europa.eu/research/bioeconomy/index.cfm
- 5 https://www.boi.go.th/upload/content/bioeconomy_5a4fa8732c2c8.pdf
The project is divided into two phases. The first will see THB47.9 billion (USD1.5 billion) invested to develop the seaport's superstructure, including the dredging of watercourses, construction of embankments and ship wharves. The second, expected to commence operations in 2025, will see an additional THB7.5 billion (USD235.2 million) invested in dockyards and the seaport's back areas.
The Map Ta Phut expansion will support an additional 19 million tons of petrochemicals and natural gas within 20 years.
In Bangkok, the Phaholyothin Transportation Center project at Bang Sue has been chosen as the site for the first Smart City initiative. With details of the public-private partnership expected to be finalized by the end of 2019, the smart business complex project is poised to become a new hub for urban and economic development.
Other logistics infrastructure under development include double-track rail lines connecting industrial zones nationwide to Laem Chabang, Map Ta Phut, and Sattahip deep sea ports, and an integration of master motorway and expressway master plans to bolster transportation to the EEC.
Located at Wangchan Valley, Rayong, the EECi will be a hub for the upcoming Biopolis for biotech research, Airpolis for automation, robotics and intelligent systems research and Space Innopolis for space and geoinformatics research. This innovation ecosystem is supported by a fully integrated infrastructure for work and living, thereby encouraging joint technology development.