New glycerine developments

Just finished my article this week about traditional chemical companies jumping into industrial biotechnology processing. That will come out on June 21 so stay tune. Meanwhile, I have a few glycerine development updates that I got hold from my Phoenix trip attending the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) meeting — geez, that seems like a long time ago!

Before getting deep into glycerine, another news cames out from Maryland-based New Generation Biofuels Holding (NGBF) announcing their patent application for producing glycerine-based biofuel. Since crude glycerine is a byproduct of most current biodiesel production these days, it is has been difficult for producers to get rid of their glycerine stock due to oversupply in the market.

Glycerine experts note prices for glycerine is at historical lows these days despite various end market applications for the product. So therefore, there have been increasing research on attempts to impart value to crude glycerine by expanding its usage

By the way, NGBF’s current biofuel product, which uses various fats and oils (new or recycled) are mostly intended to be used for power generation, heating oil, marine and transport. The company says there is no glycerine byproduct in their biofuel process. It might be worthwhile checking this glycerine-to-biofuel development.

At the AOCS meeting, several researchers presented new possible applications for glycerine use. One is from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) who is looking at the production of bacterial polyesters such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) as well as production of glycolipid surfactants such as sophorolipids and rhamnolipids by fermenting both crude or refined glycerol.

A researcher from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, talked about the possibility of producing hydrogen using glycerol as a substrate, while researchers from Procter & Gamble (P&G) — which is by the way is the world largest producer of USP grade glycerine — presented their study on the production of amino alcohol 2-amino-1-propanol (2AP) using glycerine via catalytic processing.

According to P&G, amino alcohol has a wide range of potential application but the product is not readily available in the marketplace.

Aside from amino alcohol, one product that I am not familiar of is glyceric acid, which according to researchers from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), can be used as potential material to produce branched polylactic acid (PLA) polymers that have lower crystallinity and glass transition temperatures than those of linear PLA. The AIST researchers were able to find specific bacterial strains that can covert crude glycerol to glyceric acid.

At the AOCS meeting, researcher from Houston, Texas-based Rice University Ramon Gonzales received this year’s Glycerine Innovation Award sponsored annually by The Soap and Detergent Associate (SDA) and the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). Gonzales and his team developed the metabolic processes and conditions that convert glycerine to ethanol using an E. coli strain. The researchers are also looking to produce hydrogen, formate, succinic acid, lactic acid and 1,2 propanediol from crude glycerine.

In fact, Gonzales is the founder and currently the scientific advisory board chairman of GlycosBio. From my last post about GlycosBio, the company is building a biochemical plant that will produce bio-based acetone, technical grade ethanol and isoprene, as well as a biotech R&D facility in Malaysia.

Another additional information comes from my ICIS* colleague, Ben Lefebvre, who recently noted an interesting development on one pontential huge glycerine market –the antifreeze market. Glycerine suppliers are said to be making headway in their negotiations to have their product approved for heat transfer applications, which would open the door for more glycerine to get into the huge anti-freeze markets.

[Access to story on anti-freeze market potential for ICIS subscribers only]

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