Researchers have found a way to turn a biodiesel by-product into a chemical important to the production of plastic. This article from Chemistry World says work in Switzerland has found a sustainable method to synthesise platform chemical lactic acid from waste glycerol.
The increasing demand for biodiesel means an oversupply of glycerol and, currently, any excess glycerol must be disposed of. Glycerol corresponds to around 10wt% of the fuel made. Predictions expect glycerol production from biodiesel to reach about 3.7 million tons in 2020, having seen around 2.5 million tons produced in 2014.
Lactic acid is commonly used to produce commodity chemicals like acrylic acid and pyruvic acid. However, polymerising lactic acid can give a biodegradable plastic called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA has a variety of applications as a packaging material and is anticipated to be a greener replacement for the common synthetic polymer PET.
The article goes on to say this new process for synthesising lactic acid makes the production cheaper and more sustainable.