A worldwide glut of glycerin created as a by-product of manufacturing biodiesel fuel is precipitating the shutdown of traditional glycerin plants and the opening of other plants that use glycerin as a raw material.
The oversupply stems from government incentives in the U.S. and Europe that encourage use of biodiesel, a diesel alternative produced by reacting animal fats or vegetable oils with methanol. Roughly 1 lb of glycerin is generated for every 10 lb of biodiesel made.
Solvay announced plans last week to build a new epichlorohydrin plant at its existing site in Tavaux, France, that will consume glycerin, rather than propylene, as its key raw material. The Belgian company says the plant will open in the first half of 2007 with capacity to make 10,000 metric tons of epichlorohydrin per year. It will be supplied with glycerin "at an appropriate price" by the French biodiesel maker Diester Industrie. Epichlorohydrin is used to make epoxy resins, paper-reinforcing agents, and other products.
Solvay says its new process, which it calls Epicerol, is made possible by a new class of catalysts and is covered by 11 patent applications. The U.S. agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland recently announced plans to make propylene glycol from glycerin, instead of propylene oxide, in a process that also employs advanced catalysts (C&EN, Jan. 9, page 32).
Firms that produce glycerin, meanwhile, are reeling. Dow Chemical closed its glycerin plant in Freeport, Texas, on Jan. 31, citing the flood of glycerin from biodiesel production. Dow still operates a glycerin plant in Germany.
And Procter & Gamble Chemicals will shut down a natural glycerin refinery in West Thurrock, England, on March 31.