Valorization of glycerol to fine chemicals


*Corresponding author
Dipartimento di Chimica, Università degli Studi di Milano
Via C.Golgi 19, 20133 Milano, Italy


Glycerol is a largely available commodity deriving from lipid processing and has been indicated as one of the platform molecules which can replace the fossil-oil derived ones. The market of glycerol or glycerine needed to be implemented since the use of oil and lipid for biodiesel production lead to an exceeding availability of glycerol which is not adsorbed by the existing market. These considerations plus the stringent environmental requirements promote the research in the field of glycerol transformation into valuable products. In this article advances in fine chemicals production will be reviewed.

Glycerol is the backbone of triglycerides, the most important storage form of animal and vegetal fats and oils. Its industrial production was quite stable since the start of biodiesel production based on trans-esterification of different oils (1-3). It has been estimated that around 10 wt% of the crude product obtained during biodiesel production is glycerol, thus representing a significant source of waste that must be eliminated downstream at considerable cost. It is therefore economically advantageous to found new markets in addition to the existing ones such as humectant, solvent, plasticizer, soap industry, moisturizer in the production e.g., of marzipan, paper, tobacco and cosmetics.

In view of a more sustainable industrial chemistry, the US Department of Energy (DOE) suggested a list of organics from biomass as building blocks, simple but highly functionalized molecules using which further product diversification is possible by organic synthesis. One of these molecules is glycerol from which it is possible to obtain a huge number of products as depicted in Figure 1. The sustainability of the processes requires to lower as much a ...