Dallas-based engineering firm Jacobs has completed the front-end engineering design for a new biopolymer production plant in Thailand for PLA supplier NatureWorks, the company has announced. The firm will now begin the final detailed engineering design for the new plant, which will be located at the Nakhon Sawan Biocomplex in Nakhon Sawan province.
In 2002, NatureWorks became the first to produce biopolymers at commercial scale at its facility in Blair, Nebraska. In 2013, the company expanded that plant, doubling production capacity to 150,000 metric tons per year and making it the largest PLA manufacturing plant in the world.
NatureWorks’ Ingeo PLA is made by using plants, like corn or sugarcane, to capture and sequester carbon dioxide into sugars that are fermented to make lactic acid. The company has also explored the use of other feedstocks; in 2016, it opened a fermentation laboratory to develop commercial-scale methane to lactic acid fermentation technology.
Partner companies transform the pellet product into a range of consumer goods, from compostable food containers to filament for 3D printers.
“NatureWorks’ global expansion is a major step forward for sustainable production of biopolymers from renewable resources, and Jacobs is working in lockstep with them as they innovate,” said Jacobs Advanced Facilities Senior Vice President Koti Vadlamudi.
The new manufacturing complex will include production for lactic acid, lactide and polymer, making it the world’s first polylactide facility that is fully integrated. NatureWorks will build and operate all three facilities which will have both process and energy integration to increase efficiency.
“As we approached the project to begin the global expansion of our manufacturing capabilities, we sought out an engineering partner that had deep expertise in both life science and polymers. Bringing these disciplines together is fundamental to the design of our new facility, which will be integrated from fermentation through to polymerisation,” said NatureWorks Vice President of Operations and Project Program Manager Steve Bray. “Through the selection process and in our previous work with Jacobs on our first site in Blair, Nebraska, we found that Jacobs understands the unique requirements of implementing our manufacturing technology.”
Jacobs began work on the project in 2019. The facility in Thailand is expected to be operational by 2024.