Country focus: Malaysia up close - Materials R&D pushing economic strength

Materials World magazine
1 Oct 2012

Malaysia has maintained steady growth while many other countries have struggled. Nevertheless, exports have been affected by dwindling demand. Eoin Redahan looks at how the country is using materials R&D to go from regional player to global economic force.    



Innovate to accumulate   
Launched earlier this year by the Government to stimulate R&D, the Innovation Business Opportunities Programme has yielded 42 commercially ready products. These include using a red seaweed system to create pulp for paper and bioethanol, coconut body armour, a portable solar charger and a test kit that uses the blood from horseshoe crabs to screen medical equipment, making sure it is free from with certain toxins.    

Rare earth processing plant
Australian company Lynas, based in Sydney, is building the world’s largest rare earth processing facility in Pahang, Malaysia. Despite receiving opposition from environmental groups, the plant could generate earnings equivalent to about 1% of the country’s GDP, according to The Malaysia Insider newspaper. The facility will process 22,000t of rare earth oxides each year from 2013.    

Crossing palms
Palm oil is one of the country’s most significant exports. Up to now, palm oil biomass has been used as fertiliser and  low-grade lumber. The Government is now looking to use palm oil biomass as a feedstock for energy generation, converting it into biofuels and biochemicals. According to the recent National Biomass Strategy 2020 report, Malaysia’s biomass industry could be worth RM30bln (about £6bln) and might create 66,000 new jobs by 2020.    

Handing it to the rubber industry    
If you own a pair of rubber gloves, there is a decent chance they came from Malaysia. In 2011, the country exported RM9.9bln (£2bln) worth of gloves. In total, the country exported RM14.2bln of rubber products in 2011, a year-on-year increase of about 10%. Latex threads, tyres, rubber hoses and catheters have also contributed to the increase.    

Electrical and electronic   
Malaysia has traditionally been strong in this area, with electronics and electrical produce comprising 40% of total exports, according to the Malaysian Productivity Corporation. However, competition from China, Taiwan and Singapore has undermined progress, especially in relation to the higher end areas of R&D and design. To make this sector more competitive, the Government is looking to develop several fields including integrated circuits, solid-state lighting, integrated electronics and photovoltaics.