Researchers finding new uses for glycerin

By | November 01, 2005
Finding a use for the biodiesel industry's glycerin continues to be a concern among current and future producers. With a bountiful supply of inexpensive unrefined glycerin on the market, researchers are finding those new uses.

A research chemist at the Agricultural Research Service's Environmental Quality Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., discovered that glycerin from biodiesel production and citric acid can be chemically combined to produce biodegradable polymers, which could be used in produce packaging and other products. Justin Barone said the key to the process is using unrefined glycerol specifically from biodiesel production.
Barone said he has spent about two years researching the process. Citric acid is reacted with various alcohols, or hydroxyl-containing materials such as glycerol, to obtain a polyester polymer that is biodegradable, edible and biocompatible.

Products that Barone has developed include films, sheets, plastics and gel-like coatings. He said the material holds promise for packaging materials since it is biodegradable. "It's a technology really looking for somebody to develop it," Barone said.

A researcher at the University of Missouri has developed a process to turn glycerin into propylene glycol, a non-toxic agent that can be used in antifreeze as a safer alternative to ethylene glycol. Galen Suppes told Biodiesel Magazine the project began in 2003.
Renewable Alternatives LLC is licensing the technology. Suppes said he felt the technology could solve the biodiesel industry's glycerin problem.
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