Evolving the Thai Ethanol Market Towards New Opportunities

Leaf by Lesaffre recently announced its Evolve™ platform of advanced yeast products for ethanol production. “Evolve™ Evergreen is the first product coming from the Evolve™ platform, designed for the fermentation of starch-based feedstocks” introduces Viviane Serpa Muller, Global Innovation Manager for Leaf. Having been available in Thailand for a few months now, Evolve™ Evergreen is already proving its value at PSC Starch Products ethanol plant.  

Christophe Teste, Technical Service Manager Asia Pacific at Leaf, is confident that this new product can tackle the profitability concerns at the heart of the Thai ethanol production market. “Evolve™ Evergreen already demonstrated its ability to generate more value through yield improvements and reduction of exogenous glucoamylase both at lab and industrial scale on cassava starch”

Innovation coming from the market 

Having been in Thailand for over 10 years, Leaf by Lesaffre teams witnessed the recent shift in market dynamics, as ethanol demand dropped to 3.7 million liters per day (MLPD) in Southeast Asia making it lower than the 6 MLPD current offer. With the recent phase out of E85 by the Thai government, ethanol producers are further pressured to remain competitive

However, E20 being more price competitive than E85 for final customers and usable on a wider range of vehicles, the demand for fuel ethanol should rise with the expanded use of E20.  

Moreover, there are additional opportunities for ethanol demand to further rise in Thailand in the coming years, with the government commitments towards carbon neutrality and net zero. New industries might be incentivized to use ethanol for further applications, such as bioplastics and sustainable aviation fuel production.  

Leaf by Lesaffre is a business unit of Lesaffre, and a global player in industrial biotechnology to enable a better future. 

Leaf pushes boundaries to reveal the full potential of fermentation and develop industrial microorganisms and processes that allow renewable productions. In collaboration with players that are also passionate about accelerating the transition, they design and put into action high-performance bio-based solutions. 

Drawing upon Lesaffre’s global presence and 170 years of fermentation expertise, Leaf offers high-quality and locally manufactured biomass and bio-based products. At Leaf and Lesaffre’s network of fermentation labs (R&D and application lab), they provide answers to their clients’ demand, to overcome their challenges and to seek for improvement potentials. With a team committed to sustainability, customers’ satisfaction and innovation, Leaf by Lesaffre is your industrial fermentation partner for a sustainable tomorrow. 

To follow the Thai ethanol market dynamics and remain competitive, ethanol producers are looking at increasing the profitability of their existing plant while investors are looking at building production units with lower operating expenses than the existing units. To increase profitability, the key metric to consider is the overall value created during production. “Gains in profitability can either happen through the reduction of production costs or through the increase in yield, in the case of ethanol production” advises Christophe Teste. This profitability aspect is even truer as ethanol prices in Thailand directly come from the balance between offer and demand. In such a market, having lower OPEX offers the opportunity for higher margins

To tackle the Thai ethanol challenges, we are consistently monitoring the evolution of the market and balancing what will create more value and what can be delivered on time for the current market needs” elaborates Lea Geoffroy, Marketing Manager for Leaf. To bring Evolve™ Evergreen and other innovations to market, Leaf is drawing upon Lesaffre’s capabilities in research and development. With competencies in genetic and metabolic engineering, high-throughput screening, and a great diversity of yeast, bacteria, and fungi strains, Leaf and Lesaffre have the ability and flexibility to finetune microorganisms to different applications, substrates, and fermentation conditions. “We know that it is not ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to fermentation” Viviane Serpa Muller continues “and our team in Asia Pacific and especially Thailand is involved in our innovation pipeline – to ensure that we are always targeting the needs and constraints of our customers”. 

In 2022, Lesaffre inaugurated its Campus based in the North of France. With the Campus, Lesaffre wanted to provide the Group with a new space commensurate with its R&D ambitions: 60% of its surface area is dedicated to state-of-the-art research labs, Europe’s largest biofoundry and industrial pilots.

Evolve™ Evergreen, an advanced yeast product relevant to the Thai ethanol market  

Evolve™ Evergreen is an advanced yeast product, specifically developed to face today’s and future starch-based ethanol production challenges: maximizing efficiency and yields while minimizing costs and environmental footprint.

Evolve™ Evergreen was specifically developed by Leaf to face ethanol production challenges: maximizing efficiency and yield while minimizing costs and environmental footprint. “We combined our expertise at Leaf and our Green Lab to that of the Lesaffre Institute of Science and Technology and Recombia Biosciences to develop Evolve™ Evergreen, our advanced yeast product for 1G starch-based ethanol production” explains Viviane. Pooling their expertise in industrial fermentation to that of internal and external partners allowed Leaf to develop a robust yeast able to express glucoamylase and reach higher yields than the industry standard for ethanol production. 

In a market where price is not fixed and in which the cost of feedstocks and energy is significantly increasing, margins can quickly be affected.” says Lea Geoffroy “There are several approaches to generate more value and maximize profitability: either working on the improvement of production KPIs and output benefits or not only creating more value through yield but also saving enzyme cost thanks to the replacement of exogenous enzymes in the production unit. With our Evolve™ Evergreen product, we can reach these targets, thus generating more value.”  

Evolve™ Evergreen has already proven its potential on cassava mash, both at lab- and industrial scale. Its reliability, even under a wide range of temperatures (30-40°C) enables performing consistent fermentations and sustaining plant performances.  With this product, Leaf offers a reduction of glycerol production by at least 30% – allowing a potential yield benefit of up to 2%. Through its enhanced metabolic capabilities, Evolve™ Evergreen’s glucoamylase expression enables a reduction of at least 50% exogenous GA. This allows for smart management of inputs, which plays a role in the overall reduction of ethanol plants’ operating costs. 

First-class partnership  

 Partnering with PSC Starch Products since the introduction of Evolve™ Evergreen in Thailand allowed us to validate its results on cassava feedstocks at industrial scale. Their equipment and high level of fermentation monitoring, coupled with our expertise in the product application has been a key success factor in trialing Evolve™ Evergreen at PSC’s ethanol plant” says Christophe Teste. 

To make this industrial trial successful according to PSC’s standards, Leaf team on-site spent valuable time exchanging with the production team to align on the desired outcomes for this trial and how to implement Evolve™ Evergreen and measure its performance under the plant current fermentation conditions. The synergies between PSC’s mastery of their production process and Leaf’s expertise in the product application resulted in a successful implementation of Evolve™ Evergreen. 

In terms of results, Evolve™ Evergreen displayed a yield improvement around 2%, compared to baseline product. Increase in yield is directly linked to the observed 40% reduction of glycerol production. These results, factored with the 50% exogenous glucoamylase reduction, clearly outbalances the extra cost in yeast. These results are representative of the raw value generated under standard trial conditions, without any improvement in fermentation process conditions. “Most likely, we will be further improving these performances with fine tuning of process conditions like pre-fermentation, fermentation temperature, osmotic pressure, nutrition and so on” says Christophe Teste.

P.S.C. Starch Products is a group of companies operating business in cassava and starch sugar industry for more than 66 years. With the envisioning in starch sugar industry and its strong commitment to develop the business to the best of their experience, PSC Group has become the leader in the starch sugar industry with world-class standard operations today. Five business categories of PSC Group are consisted of Starch Sugar Industry, Ethanol Industry, Rice Industry, Palm Industry, Steel Industry. 

Tackling further goals  

We expect ethanol demand to be boosted by Thailand’s ambition to become a bio-renewables hub for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), bioplastics, cosmetics etc.” says Lea Geoffroy, Marketing Manager for Leaf. With limited supplies of used cooking oil meeting the International Civil Aviation Organization’s standards, the alternative feedstocks for SAF production will be low-carbon intensity ethanol, increasing the demand for ethanol in the coming years.  

Through the AEDP, Thailand intends to reduce its dependency on imported energy – including oil – and reduce harmful emissions. Political motivations are directly impacting the industrials’ activities, for which sustainability is a rising concern. “Producers are looking at reducing their carbon intensity. We have also seen sustainability labels and certifications make their entry into the sugar and ethanol industry in Southeast Asia” affirms Christophe Teste.  

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