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Logistics could hinder Thailand’s ambition to become bioethanol hub

Twarath Sutabutr, deputy director general of Thailand’s Department of Alternative Energy Development, has expressed hope that Thailand could develop into a trading hub for bioethanol. “We have bigger plans for exports, and are looking at markets like China because if it opens up it will be huge. As of now 50% of Thai cassava is exported to China and we have cassava like Saudi Arabia has oil. But at the moment, China’s priority is food and feed and they still consider ethanol as an agricultural product,” he said. Thailand’s bioethanol producers primarily face a problem of logistics in increasing bioethanol exports. Bioethanol plants are located far from the country’s seaports, being primarily inland in the provinces of Suphanburi, Ayudhaya, Nakhon Prathom, Khon Kaen, Kanjanaburi, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Kanjanaburi, Nakhon Rajasima, Nakhon, Sawan, Rajburi, Sa Kawe, Lopburi, Sa Kaeo, Tak and Chonburi. This creates the problem of transport to export facilities. Currently, bioethanol is transported on trucks, which are both costly and inefficient. Twarath said the country is not equipped to deal with any larger export volumes at the moment and no new storage is being planned. Thailand is Asia’s largest bioethanol producer, with 45 bioethanol plants and a total capacity of 12.5 million liters per day. However, only 19 of these plants are currently operational, according to the Thai Ethanol Manufacturing Association, which is comprised of 27 producers. Current production is down to 2.95 million liters per day or 1.06 trillion liters per year. The country is adding six new bioethanol plants this year, increasing production to 4.75 million liters per day. Local consumption is only 1.2 million liters per day. This leaves the industry with a surplus of 630 million liters per year if all the bioethanol plants were operating at full capacity. Trade statistics show that only 45.23 million liters of bioethanol were exported in 2010. (March 18, 2011)