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BenchMark Energy Corporation (OTCPink:BMRK) is the source for glycerin and related refined components, providing value through our industry knowledge.
An Exploding Market
Biodiesel is a fast growing product in both the United States and Europe as government policies seek to spur the development of renewable transportation fuels. In the US alone since 2004, biodiesel production has grown from 75 million gallons per year to 650 million gallons per year. While the production of biodiesel is beginning to have an effect on the liquid fuels market, it has already had an enormous effect on the market for another good, glycerol.
When bio-crude goes through the Trans esterification process to become biodiesel, glycerol is a by-product of the chemical reaction, and in no insignificant amount. This trans esterification process yields 220 pounds of glycerol for every metric ton of biodiesel produced, a 10% yield. Total world biodiesel production in 2008 was estimated to be roughly 12.24 million metric tons, and this number is rapidly growing. This means that 1.224 million metric tons of crude glycerol was produced from the biodiesel conversion processes alone. The total world market for refined glycerol was estimated to be roughly 900,000 metric tons.
Glycerol is not a waste product, and in fact has been a staple chemical compound in the world economy for many years. There is reason to believe that as refining capacity catches up to the supply of the crude product, and new uses for glycerol are found, its price may rebound, potentially improving the economics of biodiesel production.
Glycerol is used for a variety of purposes across many different industries. The following is a list of current uses of glycerol:
- Food – glycerol is used as an artificial sweetener, especially in low-fat foods, since it is better for blood pressure than sugar. It is also used as a thickening agent and an ester in shortenings and margarine. It also can be used as a substitute ingredient in animal feed.
- Basic Materials – Glycerol be used as a substitute for petroleum-based polypropylene, a textile, and in both rigid and flexible industrial foams. It is also used as a building block for many different kinds of industrial chemicals.
- Pharmaceuticals – Used as an additive in cough syrup, toothpaste, skin care, hair care soap and many others.
- Explosives – The compound nitroglycerin, made with glycerol, is commonly used in all types of explosives.
- Other – Used as an ingredient in antifreeze, hydraulic fluids, plasticizers, among others…
Researchers at the University of Arkansas’ Center of Excellence for Poultry Science have initiated studies that substitute glycerol in chicken feed. The study showed that up to 5% substitution of glycerol in chicken feed showed no negative effects on growth (Combating the Glycerin Glut, 2006). Given the immense volume of the global poultry feed market, not to mention the entire animal feed market, this is a huge potential growth area for refined glycerol. While this will not necessarily provide direct benefits to a biodiesel producer, since this application depends upon a low price of crude and refined glycerol, this does provide larger economic benefits to society.
Scientists at Hiroshima University successfully distilled ethanol from glycerol produced from biodiesel trans esterification with the use of a catalyst called Enterobacter aerogenes HU-101 (Ito, 2005). While this science is still in its infancy, it holds a lot of promise in being able to convert glycerol into useful energy. This could potentially feed into the idea of a sustainable refinery which utilizes all of the products and by-products of the biodiesel conversion process, refining and producing them all on site. This example and the animal feed example above are only a couple representations of the progress that is being made as companies seek new processes to utilize this waste stream.
The above evidence suggest that there is still potential for the economics of the biodiesel conversion process to improve if more markets can be found for crude and refined glycerol. This is a valuable and versatile feedstock with many different uses, not only for high-value uses, but also potentially as an energy feedstock once the science catches up.
© 2012 by BenchMark Energy Corporation, all rights reserved.
- Biodiesel’s glycerine may make alternative fuel (blogs.automotive.com)
- Biodiesel industry looks to expand against rising costs (blogs.automotive.com)