Biorefinery, Company initiatives, Investments, Processing, Video

Cellulac to build a lactic acid plant

The countdown for 2014 begins and I hope next year will bring in revenue for the blog (for the first time in 6 years!). This woman needs to eat!

Anyway, I had a really interesting interview with Ireland-based industrial biochemicals company Cellulac as it recently announced its plans to build a lactic acid acid facility in a former Irish brewery site in Dundalk owned by Great Northern Brewery.  The facility will initially produce 20 ktpa of ethyl lactate, (D-) lactic acid and (L+) lactic acid starting June 2014.  Capacity is expected to increase to 100 ktpa by 2016. The interesting information here is about the market on (D-) lactic acid.

According to CEO Gerard Brandon, the polylactic acid (PLA) industry is increasingly using combination of (D-) and (L+) lactic acid, which offer more performance advantages such as heat tolerance compared to just using L-lactic acid. However, (D-) lactic acid is still small with very few producers worldwide.

Cellulac said it has several proprietary technologies throughout the entire end-to-end production that will enable its new facility to manufacture (D-) lactic acid at 40% below current producers’ costs. It will also be the biggest production facility for (D-) lactic acid worldwide.

On the front end of its platform involves fermentation technology that can use biomass feedstock such as lactose whey, spent brewers’ grain (SBG) or dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS). Cellulac already has feedstock supply agreements in place for the supply of up to 50 ktpa of lactose whey. It can also partner with ethanol producers who would be interested in retrofitting their facilities to get value-added margins with the production of lactic acid or ethyl lactate.

Cellulac also has its own on-site tailored enzyme production and patented selected microbes for producing high-yield (D-) lactic acid. A significant component of its process technology is its patented SoniqueFlo technology, a hydrodynamic cavitation device that is used in the biomass pretreatment process as well as in downstream process after enzymatic hydrolysis and lactobacillus fermentation.

Check out the process diagram as well as video introducing the SoniqueFlo technology. Brandon said the cavitation devices has already been installed and used in several US ethanol plants since 2011 processing pretreatments of about 380m gallons of ethanol. Cellulac expects to achieve an energy savings of up to 67% using the SoniqueFlo technology combined with purification and recovery systems, compared to conventional lactic acid production.

Cellulac does not intend to produce its own PLA but plans on assisting existing PLA manufacturers to accelerate their process technology. The company estimates the market for lactic acid-based biochemicals at $1.6 billion worldwide with growth forecast at 20%/year until 2025.

Cellulac currently has a pilot facility in Potsdam, Germany, with a scale of 1000 kg input per day. The company plans for joint venture deals on the upstream side such as with dairy producers and brewers as well as with ethanol producers. On the downstream side, Cellulac said it has already signed preliminary agreements with a PLA manufacturer as well as potential buyers of its ethyl lactate and sodium bicarbonate.

In other lactic acid news, Direvo announced in November that it has successfully completed a laboratory scale development of a fermentation process for low-cost production of L-lactic acid, a part of its BluCon technology platform. The technology platform enables one-step conversion of non-food biomass to valuable chemicals such as lactic acid.

Researchers at Singapore’s A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, meanwhile, have identified bacteria that can turn lignocellulose-rich palm empty fruit bunch, a byproduct of palm oil extraction, into L-lactic acid. The researchers are now planning to use genetic engineering to improve the acid tolerance of the newly identified bacterial strain.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.


One Response to “Cellulac to build a lactic acid plant”

  1. Hi, with the growing business potential on PLA, I am sure we need more innovative and cheaper options of producing PLA. What about using enzyme mediated technologies like lipases?

    Posted by Rajasekar | February 8, 2014, 11:07 pm

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