Consortium targets biodiesel byproduct

As manufacture of biodiesel increases, so do concerns about what do with byproduct glycerol (http://www.chemicalprocessing.com/articles/2007/003.html).

A number of companies already aim to use the material to make propylene glycol (see p. 50), but this may not be enough to stem a byproduct glycerol glut and the concomitant need to incinerate excess material. So, in April, a consortium, called The Glycerol Challenge, was launched to find ways to convert the material into specialty chemicals. It now includes the University of Cardiff, Cardiff, U.K., and Vertellus Specialties, Indianapolis. The group is seeking to add biodiesel and chemical manufacturers, as well as catalyst and engineering companies, says Keith Simons, project manager at KS Associates, Rugby, U.K.

“The application of green chemical technology has become increasingly important to both ourselves and our customers,” notes Timothy Zappala, CEO and president of Vertellus. “The chemical structure and increasing abundance of glycerol makes it an excellent platform chemical for us to use as a renewable feedstock.”

The consortium plans to start a $4-million-to-$6-million project in January 2008, with half of the funding likely to be contributed through the Technology Programme of the U.K.’s Department of Trade and Industry. Initial efforts will focus on oxidation chemistry. “This is in part because that is where the expertise at Cardiff lies, but secondly there are many possible oxidation pathways from glycerol,” says Simons. “For example, Dow, Dupont, Huntsman and Solvay have recently announced routes to epicholorohydrin, 1,2 and 1,3 propanediol. We believe that this is only scratching the surface of what is possible.” Work may focus both on general intermediates and specific final products, depending upon the interests of companies that join the consortium. “Although much of the discovery work will be conducted in batch, it is our intention to further investigate these systems in continuous mode,” he says. Piloting of batch processes by industrial partners might begin in 2010, Simons hopes.

More information on the consortium is available at www.thegylcerolchallenge.org.

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