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eNews from Friday, January 9, 2009

Korean Team Develops Process to Extract Chemicals From Glycerol

Asia Pulse Businesswire -- SEOUL -- January 7, 2009 -- South Korean scientists have developed a high-tech process to extract commercially viable chemical compounds from a biodiesel by-product that can help cut costs of making the synthetic fuel, the government said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said researchers from local universities, the state-run Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology and GS Caltex Corp. have successfully made glycerol carbonate (GC) and 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP) from glycerol.

"Using a special catalyst to make the chemicals, scientists have found a way to effectively reduce biodiesel production costs by 15 percent," a government official said. He said production cost can be lowered as manufacturers will be able to sell the by-product chemicals on the market.

The official also said that the extraction process is the first of its kind and gives the country an edge over foreign rivals currently committed to making biodiesel fuel.

GC is a new kind of solvent used for industrial and medical purposes that could replace conventional propylene carbonate, while 3-HP is a water-soluble compound utilized in the industrial production of various chemicals such as acrylates.

Once the extraction process for the two chemicals is fully optimized for large-scale production -- which is expected to be completed by 2012 -- biodiesel manufacturers will be able to churn out 950,000 tons of GC per year, the official said. That could draw in an estimated 700 billion won (US$542 million), while production of 3-HP may top 3.6 million tons worth 4.7 trillion won.

The combined global market size of these chemicals could grow to 13 trillion won by 2016 with South Korean companies expected to grab 3 percent of the total, he said.

The project, which was supported by 8 billion won in state research funds, is part of a greater effort by the government to develop new biochemical materials and fuels to cope with South Korea's large industrial and energy needs.

Public and private enterprises have also started work to make improved non-petroleum-based diesel fuel made from vegetable oil and animal fat that may help reduce the country's dependence on imported resources and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Copyright © 2009 Asia Pulse Pte Ltd.

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