Where to go with the glycerin?

Raw material surplus through biodiesel production

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By 2010, the European Union intends to increase the production of biodiesel to around eight million tonnes per year. But the alleged ko fuel has a problem in itself: per ton of biodiesel accumulate 100 kilograms of glycerol - in itself a valuable raw material, which, however, in this amount (yet) can not be recycled. So where does that go?


With the target of eight million tons of biodiesel, around 800, 000 tons of glycerine would be produced in Europe alone. However, the world's total annual demand is currently only about 500, 000 tonnes and the traditional application areas in the cosmetics, food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries are largely exhausted. Since disposal or disposal are no alternative, the question arises: where to go with the raw material glycerine?

At the Department of Biochemical and Chemical Engineering at the University of Dortmund, a team of scientists headed by Professor Arno Behr is now looking for alternatives to bring the immense surpluses of glycerol into commercial use. Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection and the industrial partner Cognis Oleochemicals, the researchers want to develop procedures to open up new areas of application for the raw material.

Glycerin as a "synthesis helper"?

Here, two different solutions are pursued in four projects. In the first two projects, glycerol is used in synthetic reactions. Oxidation in the presence of suitable catalysts such as gold or palladium results in a diverse range of interesting chemical fine products such as oxalic acid. In the carbonylation of glycerol - the catalytic reaction with carbon monoxide - the chemical engineers in Dortmund are seeking the synthesis of succinic and glutaric acid, which can be further processed into plastics. display

Glycerin for detergents and cosmetics?

The other two projects are based on already known methods. Here, the scientists are trying to improve these processes in order to be able to selectively access the desired end products. So-called glycerol isomers are prepared by catalytic reaction of glycerol with butadiene. These substances have great potential for the synthesis of surfactants, the main constituents of detergents. Since various products can form within the context of glycerol telomerization, the Dortmund scientists are trying to selectively produce certain surfactant raw materials with the aid of catalysis and process engineering.

Glycerol oligomerization is also a proven process; glycerol oligomers are used, for example, in the cosmetics and food industries. In this reaction, a whole range of different oligomers can arise. Of particular economic interest, however, are the short-chain oligomers. Therefore, the Dortmund chemical engineers are looking for suitable catalysts in order to produce these as selectively as possible.

In all projects, it is the goal of the scientists to design the processes in the laboratory so that they can be implemented later on a large scale without any problems.

"For this purpose, the reactions are carried out by us in so-called miniplants." According to project leader Prof. Arno Behr: "These are quasi chemical plants on a miniature scale, but they have all the characteristics of a large production plant."

(University of Dortmund, 05.02.2007 - NPO)