Topsoe has developed a process in cooperation with Technical University of Denmark, Department of Chemistry, making it possible to convert carbohydrates from biomass to lactic acid using a catalyst. Lactic acid is used for the production of bio-degradable plastic.
A catalyst converting biomass
This is the first time the process takes place over a catalyst – previously, biomass has been converted to lactic acid using fermentation. As the process may now take place using an inorganic catalyst, it will be possible to produce lactic acid using new and more cost-efficient processes. The research results have been published in an article in the internationally esteemed magazine Science on 30 April 2010.
Copying natural processes
The process developed by researchers at Topsøe and DTU Chemistry, mirrors the process seen in biological systems. “You may say that the catalyst acts in the same way as bacteria do in the natural fermentation process,” says Esben Taarning, who is one of the researchers behind the discovery.
Esben Taarning explains: “By modifying the acidity in catalysts used for oil refining, we may change their catalytic properties, enabling carbohydrates to be converted into lactic acid products. Until now, this form of conversion has been limited to biological systems.”
The potential of the production of lactic acid
Lactic acid products may be used for the production of biodegradable plastic and solvents. In the long term these may replace a large part of the chemical products which are produced from fossil resources today.
Claus Hviid Christensen, Vice President at Topsøe says: “In the future, biomass will be the primary building block for the chemical industry. The production of chemicals will create greater value than what is possible today – and at the same time reduce CO2 emissions. So we are already well on the way towards the technology of the future.”
Source: Haldor Topsoe A/S, press release, 2010-05-05.