A new discovery reported by CEBC researchers in the journal ACS Catalysis was amongst the top ten most read articles last summer for this journal.
“The article describes a promising one-pot, lower temperature catalytic route for converting glycerol to lactic acid,” said RV Chaudhari, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Kansas.
Lactic acid – the chemical that leads to sour milk and sore muscles – is used to make biodegradable plastic and other commercial materials. It is currently manufactured by a slow fermentation process that generates large amounts of waste and involves costly separation steps.
A non-fermentation approach known as hydrothermal conversion can also make lactic acid from glycerol. This process is favorable because it can use the glycerol byproduct directly from biodiesel production without extra pre-treatment and cleanup steps. But, it is energy intensive and leads to severe corrosion problems in reactors.
“To overcome these obstacles,” said Chaudhari, “we are designing a catalyst to make lactic acid at milder temperatures.”
The researchers found that copper-based catalysts with sodium hydroxide convert glycerol to lactic acid at lower temperatures than other hydrothermal processes.
his finding is especially significant because it is the first report to show that lactic acid can be made from glycerol by a supported metal catalyst without having to add either oxygen or hydrogen, an added bonus that could significantly shrink operating costs.
The report also states that the copper catalyst is recyclable, stable, and selective – ideal attributes for optimal chemical processing.
--by Claudia Bode
Debdut Roy, Bala Subramaniam, and Raghunath V. Chaudhari, “Cu-Based Catalysts Show Low Temperature Activity for Glycerol Conversion to Lactic Acid.” ACS Catalysis, 2011, 1, 548-551.