Thailand planning future of petchem sector against depletion of gas resources

To gear its petrochemical industry towards value-added products and counter its depleting natural gas resources, Thailand’s Energy Policy and Planning Office (Eppo) is preparing to finalise its plans for the industry, said a recent report in Bangkok Post. Eppo has appointed the Petroleum Institute of Thailand (PTIT) to conduct a feasibility study for the plan, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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PTIT executive director Kurujit Nakornthap said Thailand is in the third phase of developing a master plan, more than 40 years after the 1978 discovery of natural gas in the Gulf of Thailand.

A tentative plan has been submitted to Eppo, which will conduct a public hearing and conclude on future plans by the end of the year.

The move is in line with a proposal from the National Energy Reform Committee, which has predicted that gas in the Gulf of Thailand is in its last life cycle before depletion over the next decade.

Gas is the main raw material for Thailand’s petrochemical industry and the feasibility study has been conducted as a result of the implementation of the Thailand 4.0 economic development concept to spur rapid or S-shaped growth in the economy.

Kurujit said the PTIT will study the direction of the industry because over the last two decades more players have entered the petrochemical market across Asia from the Middle East to China and Japan.

PTIT will also provide suggestions of petrochemical products that are in demand globally, with a master plan that will include the regulations and infrastructure improvements, such as logistics, to best support the sector.

Past master plans focused on replacing plastics imports with domestically produced plastics, but the new plan will go further to encourage the manufacture of value-added products.

Kurujit said the Covid-19 pandemic saw demand for oil and gas plummet, but demand for petrochemicals could rise because of enhanced health and safety measures implemented in public places and businesses using a large amount of plastic.

The study covers the petrochemical products likely to best support fast-growing industrial sectors such as automotive, food and beverage, hospitality, tourism, and circular economy.

According to a report by Krungsri Research on the Thai petrochemical industry published last year, the discovery of wet natural gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand since the 1970s was one of the key drivers of Thailand’s industrial development.

In 1978, the government founded the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, which was listed on the SET and renamed PTT in 2001.

The petrochemical sector has a total production capacity of 32 million tonnes, making it the largest in Asean and 16th largest in the world.

Output is divided between upstream products at 12 million tonnes/year, with intermediate products at 8 million tonnes and downstream products at 10.8 million tonnes.

As the industry uses natural gas as the primary raw material, 70% of Thai products are olefins or general-use plastic products.

Downstream production comprises 1,000 firms that convert to general plastic, or from single-use products to durable plastic.

The primary upstream consumers of plastics in Thailand are packaging (38%), textiles (18%), automobile manufacturing (12%), electronics (11%) and others (21%).

There are two major players in the domestic petrochemical sector: PTT, with a 54% market share, and SCG, with a 29% market share. The remainder is held by other firms like Vinythai, Indorama Ventures and ExxonMobil.

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