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Lactic acid for bioplastics produced from de-proteinised whey in continuous production run

Cellulac : 21 May, 2014  (New Product)
The industrial biochemicals company Cellulac is announcing the world’s first ever industrial-level continuous production of lactic acid from deproteinised lactose whey. A 10 day production run has concluded which has delivered optically pure D(-) lactic acid suitable for conversion to bioplastics.
Whey is a high volume waste by-product of the cheese production process, following the separation of fat and casein from milk.  As it has a high chemical oxygen demand it is considered a major pollution problem for the dairy industry. Now, Cellulac is able to take this by-product and convert it into lactic acid which can be used in the production of bioplastics as well as other industrial chemicals. The process also creates a major value-added product for the agricultural sector in a market deemed to be reliant on commodity prices, and which is set to come under further pressure from the removal of EU Milk Quotas next year.
Gerard Brandon, CEO of cellulac, commented; “We are the first company to achieve continuous production of optically pure lactic acid from deproteinised lactose whey on an industrial scale. This is a major breakthrough that we will exploit in our Dundalk plant, Ireland, as we build our Phase 1 production of up to 20,000 tonnes of high specification ingredients, starting in 2015. The resulting lactic acid can be used for industrial strength and heat resistant bioplastics. The use of such second generation alternative sources of sugars, in addition to our continuous runs, leads to significant savings in time, productivity, quality, recoverable additives, and ultimately a lower production cost."
Cellulac expects a reduction in cost of production of optically pure lactic acid of in excess of 40% compared to current approaches that rely on sugar and starch (first generation) feedstocks for a number of reasons. These include:
  • The Cellulac bio-production process utilises raw materials that are second generation feedstocks, including lactose whey and lignocellulosic materials (eg straw, spent brewers’ grains, ethanol producers’ distilled dried grains with solubles). These are by-products resulting from other commercial or agricultural processes and as such have little intrinsic commercial value, guaranteeing low input costs. By contrast, first generation feedstocks used in alternative bio-production platforms are highly sensitive to commodity price inflationary pressures as a result of their use as basic food crops.
  • The Cellulac process significantly reduces the combined cost of energy and enzymes for the conversion of raw feedstocks to fermentable sugars when compared to alternative pre-treatment systems such as steam explosion. This results from the application of the SoniqueFlo cavitation technology in the pre-treatment of such feedstocks and the use of Cellulac’s proprietary cocktail of enzymes to furnish high yields of both C5/C6 fermentable sugars for subsequent downstream conversion to biochemicals.
  • The Cellulac process removes the majority of the energy costs associated with the downstream processing of fermentation broth to lactic acid by the innovative use of supersonic energy and CO2 in SoniqueFloT to produce ethyl lactate, an industrial organic solvent derived from lactic acid. Conventional processing is highly energy intensive and consumes as much as 67% of the overall cost of lactic acid production.
SoniqueFlo technology was acquired by the Cellulac Group as part of the acquisition of Pursuit Marine Drive Limited (PMD) in July 2013. Development had commenced in 2002 under the control of Dr Marcus Fenton, who also joined the Group as part of the acquisition of PMD.
Following extensive development and intensive testing, SoniqueFlo is now installed in the pre-treatment process at five biochemical plants in the United States. Over a test period of six months in 2011 with the unit operating and not operating in alternate months at one of these plants, SoniqueFlo was demonstrated to reduce pre-treatment enzyme usage by at least 25%. These biochemical plants have not installed the SoniqueFlo in any of the later stages of the ethanol production process.
SoniqueFlo incorporates two pairs of four reactors mounted on the skid. The combination of two pairs of four reactors enables continuous processing using one pair of reactors, whilst the other pair is cleaned, and gives the unit a processing capacity of over 50t/hr
In the pre-treatment process, lignocellulose is reduced in size and introduced into the reactor in a water based mixture at 5m/s. Steam is introduced at 6bar pressure to accelerate the material to 1000m/s, thereby creating a supersonic flow with a low pressure vapour phase, which induces a shear and cavitation effect. This effect opens the lignocellulose cell walls, which exposes cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin for subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis and separation.
In the second and third deployment of SoniqueFlo in the downstream process, carbon dioxide is introduced at 7bar pressure in place of the steam.
SoniqueFlo does not require sulphuric acid and has been demonstrated to significantly reduce energy consumption. Compared to conventional steam explosion pre-treatment, the SoniqueFlo unit operates at a lower temperature (124C compared to 200C) and requires less steam pressure (6bar compared to 20bar).
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