Glycerin gears up for new uses

12 February 2007 00:00  [Source: ICB Americas]

GLYCERIN DEMAND is expected to rise in the next 12-24 months as development of glycerin-based chemicals and products heats up.

Cheap prices and abundant supply have opened up opportunities for glycerin consumption either as a substitute for petrochemical-derived products or as a feedstock in new applications. Companies such as Cargill, Dow Chemical, Solvay, and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) have all announced planned construction of new chemical facilities using glycerin as feedstock.

"A large amount of research for finding new applications for glycerin is starting to have an effect," says Carol Collier, oleochemicals marketing manager at Uniqema. "Demand increases could start to actually outpace the refined glycerin increases in the next 12 months."

"Sustained low prices for glycerin is allowing formulators to use glycerin instead of other polyols, such as ethylene glycol (EG) and propylene glycol (PG)," says Joe Jobe, president of the National Biodiesel Board. "There is currently surplus capacity for glycerin refining in the US, so the lower cost of crude glycerin could result in bringing some domestic idle capacity back on line," he adds.

Cargill says it is forming a stand-alone company which will focus on providing a platform of glycerin-based products starting with the manufacture of renewable PG. The company expects to begin production by mid-2008.

"Cargill already sells glycerin from its biodiesel plants and has ready access through its supply chain enough for world-scale production of PG," says Jim Stoppert, senior director for Cargill Industrial Bioproducts. "We do not have a specific planned location for the PG production yet, although we have several sites in mind and will decide soon which will be the first of several plants worldwide."

ADM is currently working on a permit to build its glycerin-based propylene glycol and ethylene glycol plant in Decatur, Ill. The plant, with a projected total capacity of 100,000 tonnes, is expected to come on line by 2008.

Washington-based Senergy Chemical is currently producing industrial-grade and pharmaceutical-grade glycerin-derived PG in an undisclosed location. The company reportedly started its PG plant in November last year with an initial capacity of 60m lbs/year, expandable to 100m. The products are being distributed by Texas-based Triangle Chemical.

Dow and Solvay, meanwhile, are constructing new epichlorohydrin (ECH) plants that will use glycerin as a feedstock instead of the traditional propylene.

Solvay is already building its 10,000 tonne/year ECH facility in Tavaux, France, using its patented Epicerol technology. The plant is scheduled to start up by the first half of this year. Solvay has secured biodiesel producer, Diester Industrie, for its glycerin supply.

Solvay says the capacity of the plant could be quickly duplicated depending on the growth of the market. The company is also mulling on capacity expansion in Asia.

Dow plans to build a 150,000 tonne/year glycerin-based ECH plant in China, which is expected to start up in 2010. Dow said the amount of glycerin to be used in the plant will be equal to that of the amount of ECH produced. The plant will be the first to use Dow's new proprietary glycerin-to-ECH technology.

Other possible applications being developed include the use of glycerin as an additive in animal feeds, surfactants, lubricants, solvents, fertilizers and in antifreeze or coolant.

The amount of glycerin used in technical applications worldwide is currently around 160,000 tonnes and is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 3%, according to Frost & Sullivan. Major end market uses for glycerin also include food and beverages, personal care and pharmaceutical.

"With novel applications driving demand, market participants need to focus on improving glycerin's quality, to expand refining capacity, as well as actively seek new areas of deployment to leverage on growth opportunities," says Frost & Sullivan analyst Niranjana G. "Increased investment in R&D and continuous innovation is critical for a positive economic outlook for the global industry."

Frost & Sullivan estimated the total market for refined glycerin in Europe last year at 400,000 tonnes, valued at $244.6m. The market is expected to reach 460,000 tonnes with a value of $325m by 2013.

In the US, refined glycerin last year was estimated at 400m pounds with a market value of $157.4m. By 2013, the market is projected to reach 497.3m pounds with a value of $185m.

By: Doris de Guzman
+1 713 525 2653

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