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Bid to create Thai biotech-hub gathers steam


THE PETROLEUM Institute of Thailand (PTIT) has proposed four strategies to make Thailand a leader in the integrated biotechnology industry within 20 years.

Siri Jirapongphan, director of the PTIT, said the institute in conjunction with Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University had formed a special committee for the purpose of creating a long-term national strategy in this regard. 
The committee will support private investments into a “new wave” industry of integrated biotechnology businesses – a so-called bio-hub. 
 The four strategies include the creation of a biotechnology industrial hub in a single location with close access to raw materials, incorporating production of biofuels, bio-chemicals and bio-plastics. This would include the construction of infrastructures and public services to accommodate continuous production. 
Integration of all these components would increase productivity and energy efficiency. The production of fertilisers and use of recycled water in agriculture would be a bonus. 
The development process is to be split into two phases. 
It is estimated that Phase 1 (2018-25), using sugar cane as a raw material to produce biofuels, bio-chemicals and bio-plastics, would result in annual revenue of Bt120 billion. Phase 2 (2026-35) would utilise cassava and other applicable bio-materials, and is estimated to consume 35 million tonnes for produce per year, generating Bt500 billion in revenue annually.
Chaipong Pongpanich, director of Sasin Management Consulting, affirmed Thailand’s capabilities in terms of agricultural produce to be use as raw materials. Currently, Thailand exports 56 million tonnes of sugar annually, second only to Brazil. 
Thailand also exports 25 million tonnes of cassava derivatives annually, and the equivalent amount of raw cassava, and is the world’s No 1 exporter. 
Together with some existing bio-production, Thailand is not starting this endeavour at zero, and thus there is a high possibility of becoming a world leader in integrated industrial biotechnology. 
The use of agricultural produce as raw materials could create an industrial value chain within the Kingdom, add value to agricultural produce, generate revenue for the country, distribute wealth to local communities, and create new employment opportunities and labour stability. 
If this industrial biotechnology enterprise is made possible, it will add an estimated Bt100 billion in investment for Phase 1, not to mention future investments. 
However, Thailand’s current limitation lies in not being a leader in terms of biotechnology, so government policies to provide investment incentives and attract key players to invest in this effort will be crucial.
Bowon Vongsinudom, vice chairman for the Federation of Thai Industries, said the private sector was both ready and capable of developing the business. He views the development of the bio-hub within a single area with close access to raw materials as being ideal for Thailand. 
However, it is still a risky investment because of the large amount of capital required. Therefore, government support is necessary, especially investment incentives. 
There is additional risk because biotechnology licences are expensive and exclusive to their owners. Therefore, the government will need to consider the correct measures to provide investment incentives, as well as the correct level of low-interest loans. 
The market for bio-products is also an important factor, as their production costs are typically higher, so demand for them is not yet widespread. Consequentially, raising awareness and spearheading bio-product markets is a crucial strategy. 
The collaboration of public and private endeavours is crucial in developing industrial biotechnology within the Kingdom by making preparations and strengthening this industry, including policies to support initial investments, having necessary infrastructures and public services. This is to help make bio-production costs more competitive relative to non-bio competitors.
Thanin Pa-Em, deputy secretary-general at the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said biotechnology was a new industry that was important for the future development of the Thai economy. 
This is because it is a “new wave” industry that creates value for domestic agricultural produce, which is in accordance with the global trend in production that is focusing more on the environment and sustainable development. 
Starting a Thai biotechnology industry would create a foundation for businesses in bio-products, as well as potentially creating further industrial developments. This is an opportunity for Thailand to become a technological leader, furthering research and technologies developed by Thai researchers.
However, executing this endeavour will involve many governmental bodies and other organisations. Integrating these organisations and defining joint goals is a necessary step to consider.
 

Published : August 27, 2015

By : THE NATION