March 25, 2008

Researchers in Brazil turn glycerin into propane

Researchers in Brazil have developed a method to turn glycerin, the coproduct of biodiesel production, into green propane.

"Green propane" already exists -- the raw material of many plastic products -- and its patent belongs to a partnership between the governmental enterprise Nova Petroquimica and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), which is opening the way for replacing the petroleum derivatives used in the plastics industry.

"We have glycerin available in sufficient quantities" to develop this "sustainable path", Pedro Bóscolo, technology manager of the company, told Tierramérica.

With process in place they are looking at the steps to prove it's commercial viability.

With the product patented, its current phase is to develop a pilot plant at UFRJ, followed by a slightly larger plant at Nova Petroquimica, before launching large-scale production in 2013.

Just as the ethanol industry relies on the sale of coproducts to make the overall production economical, biodiesel production has relied on the sale of glycerin to make biodiesel profitable. But as biodiesel production has increased so has the supply of glycerin, pushing down prices and straining the economics of the industry.

That is why there is a big push by the biodiesel industry to create a product that adds value to glycerin. And if this process proves successful it could help to shore up the economics of the industry and lower biodiesel prices for consumers.

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