Glycerin is one of the by-products of biodiesel production and the world wide increase in biodiesel production has produced a glut of glycerin causing glycerin producers like Dow Chemical and Proctor and Gamble to mothball their plants. With the over supply comes a corresponding decrease in value and the issue of how to dispose of the waste glycerin.
Scientists from Rice University in Houston, Texas have come up with a classic win-win solution in the form of a bacterium that ferments glycerin and produces ethanol.
Chemical engineer Ramon Gonzalez, Rice University’s William Akers Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said:
We identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol. It’s also very efficient. We estimate the operational costs to be about 40 percent less that those of producing ethanol from corn.
One pound of glycerin is produced for every 10 pounds of biodiesel. The biodiesel business has tight margins, and until recently, glycerin was a valuable commodity, one that producers counted on selling to ensure profitability.
The technology is now in the hands of Houston venture capitalists and a production facility is expect to be operational next year as several companies have contacted Professor Gonzalez about using the process.