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Toray aims to turn Thai sugar-cane waste into biofuel feedstock

TOKYO Toray Industries is looking to tap sugar cane waste in Thailand to produce raw materials for biofuel, a revenue source that fits with the company’s expansion plans.

The Japanese synthetic fibers giant plans to spend 5 billion yen to 6 billion yen ($43 million to $52 million) 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.

The plant in Udon Thani Province, scheduled to begin operations in August 2018, will be able to churn out 1,400 tons of cellulosic sugar annually for bioethanol, along with 450 tons of oligosaccharides and 250 tons of polyphenols for foods and fodder.

Toray’s proprietary water purification technology can reduce impurities in the bagasse-derived sugar solution by a factor of 10 and double the sugar concentration in the liquid, allowing the company to halve the energy costs related to the production process.

Known primarily as a maker of synthetic fibers, Toray has broadened its scope to include uses for carbon fibers. The company is now expanding its business with membranes and filters for water treatment and air purification and envisions leveraging these technologies to tap biofuels as a next-generation revenue source.

Toray considers Thailand a growth market for biofuels. The country is the largest sugar cane grower in Asia 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.

The Paris Agreement on climate change encourages the development of technologies and uses for biofuels as a renewable energy resource.

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