Galactic is to be actively involved in the ECLIPSE project launched by the European Community as part of the 7th Framework Programme. The aim of this project is to use microalgae ‘waste’ from the biodiesel process as a raw material for producing lactic acid by fermentation, which in turn will be used to produce PLA (polylactic acid). The project was chosen over several others because of its scientific excellence. At an estimated cost of 5 million EUR it will bring together 13 industrial players and research centres.
Nowadays, raw materials employed in the production of lactic acid require the use of ‘food’ crops. First-generation biomass consists of beet and cane sugar, or corn and wheat starch-based glucose. For this reason third-generation biomass, which is based on microalgae, appears to be the most interesting option. This type of biomass, which is produced in an aquatic environment, has no need for fertile land and provides a high yield per hectare. Nevertheless, it does require the addition of nutrients and a CO² source as well as sunlight.
Galactic has already carried out research on second-generation biomass (lignocellulosic biomass) which consists in redeploying the residual non-edible parts of crops. Unfortunately, second-generation biomass is still linked to ‘food’ crop market dynamic and does not provide a higher yield than cane sugar for example.
‘We are very confident about this new type of fermentation. Current results show that the production cost of lactic acid would be much lower than it is right now’ says Benoît Moreau, Research Manager at Galactic. Lactic acid produced in this way would be polymerized by Futerro (a joint venture between Galactic and Total) into PLA. Plastic products manufactured using this bioplastic would be expected to have an exceptionally low carbon footprint. However, the level of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the products themselves (PLA, algal biodiesel) will have a strong bearing on how the environmental performance of the algal-based PLA product is perceived.