Skip to main content

Microbial Lactic Acid, Its Polymer Poly(lactic acid), and Their Industrial Applications

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Plastics from Bacteria

Part of the book series: Microbiology Monographs ((MICROMONO,volume 14))

Abstract

Lactic acid occurs widely in nature and is produced by many life forms from bacteria to human cells. Identified in 1780 as a component of sour milk, it has been used in food, drink, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, chemical and electronic industries in different forms, such as free acid (typically 80–92% in water), salts (e.g., calcium lactate), and esters (e.g., ethyl lactate). If one calculates the amount of its derivatives back to the equivalent amount of original lactic acid, the total global market volume in 2008 is estimated at around 260,000 tons of lactic acid (calculated at 100% concentration) for traditional applications [excluding poly(lactic acid) (PLA)]. PURAC has a market share of over 60%, and other producers share around 30–40% of the global commercial market for lactic acid and its derivates. Whereas lactic acid was historically produced through a chemical process, today more than 95% of the lactic acid produced is derived from biological resources (e.g., sucrose or glucose from starch) by microbial fermentation, which typically produces the l-(+) form of lactic acid. Only one producer still uses petroleum-based chemicals to synthesize racemic mixture of the d-(−) and l-(+) forms of lactic acid.

With the shortage and/or unstable supply of crude oil, its astonishing price variation, and the concerns of its environmental impact and the greenhouse gases released by petroleum-based plastic and chemical industries, bio-based plastics have gained significant attention. Among them, PLA is not only biodegradable, but is also regarded as most cost-competitive. NatureWorks, the largest producer of PLA, has expanded its annual production capacity from 70,000 to 140,000 tons in 2008–2009. Several other producers are setting up pilot plants in China and Europe. By 2020, the global annual production capacities of the lactic acid and PLA industries are very likely to exceed one million tons.

Compared with traditional petroleum-based plastics, PLA is still more expensive and usually has less desirable mechanical and physical properties, which limit its commercialization and applications. The recent commercialization of d-(−)-lactic acid and lactide has the potential to improve the mechanical and thermal characteristics of PLA resins and blends by the crystallization of stereocomplex PLA, which allows application in previously unattainable high-end markets.

The status and industrial (nonmedical) applications of microbial lactic acid and PLA are discussed in this chapter. The current issues and future work needed to develop the lactic acid and PLA industries are also reviewed. This chapter is meant to serve as an easy-to-read practical review for those interested in the general status and future of the lactic acid and PLA industries.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 169.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 219.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 219.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Ajioka M, Inomoto K, Susuki K, Yamaguchi A (1995) Basic properties of polylactic acid produced by the direct condensation polymerization of lactic acid. Bull Chem Soc Jpn 68:2125–2131

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson KS, Hillmyer MA (2006) Melt preparation and nucleation efficiency of polylactide stereocomplex crystallites. Polymer 47:2030–2035

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Benninga H (1990) A history of lactic acid making: a chapter in the history of biotechnology. Kluwer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  • Clydesdale P (2008) Responsible innovation in everyday life – NatureWorks biopolymer. Paper presented at the second biopolymers markets conference, Shanghai, 16–17 April 2008

    Google Scholar 

  • Clydesdale P, Whelan J (2007) PLA development and successes. Paper presented at the bioplolymers markets conference, Hong Kong, 16–17 May 2007

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO/WHO (1967) Toxicological evaluation of some flavoring substances and non-nutritive sweetening agents. FAO nutrition meetings report series no 44a, WHO/Food Add 68.33

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO/WHO (1968) Specifications for the identity and purity of food additives and their toxicological evaluation: some flavoring substances and non-nutritive sweetening agents. Eleventh report of the joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives. FAO nutrition meetings report series no 44; WHO technical report series no 383

    Google Scholar 

  • FAO/WHO (1974) Toxicological evaluation of certain food additives with a review of general principles and of specifications. Seventeenth report of the joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives [1973, NMRS 53/TRS 539-JECFA 17]. FAO Nutrition meetings series, no 53, 1974; WHO technical report series, no 539, 1974, and corrigendum

    Google Scholar 

  • Fukushima H, Yukiko F, Kazuaki S, Miura S, Kimura Y (2005) Stereoblock poly(lactic acid): synthesis via solid-state polycondensation of a stereocomplexed mixture of poly(L-lactic acid) and poly(D-lactic acid). Macromol Biosci 5:21–29

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Garlotta D (2001) A literature review of poly lactic acid. J Polym Environ 9(2):63–84

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gruber P (2004) Chemicals from renewable resources. Presented at MICS, 23 March 2004

    Google Scholar 

  • Henton DE, Gruber P, Lunt J, Randall J (2005) Polylactic acid technology. In: Mohanty AK, Misra M, Drzal LT (eds) Natural fibers, biopolymers, and biocomposites. Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton

    Google Scholar 

  • Jang WY, Shin BY, Lee TJ, Narayan R (2007) Thermal properties and morphology of biodegradable PLA/starch compatibilized blends. J Ind Eng Chem 13(3):457–464

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Mehta R, Kumar V, Bhunia H, Upadhyay SN (2005) Synthesis of poly lactic acid, a review. J Macromol Sci 45:325–349

    Google Scholar 

  • NatureWorks (2009) NatureWorks accesses second Ingeo™ manufacturing location. NatureWorks news release, 12 March 2009

    Google Scholar 

  • Nordic Working Group on Food Toxicity and Risk Assessment (2002) Food additives in Europe 2000 – status of safety assessments of food additives presently permitted in the EU, pp 269–271. http://www.norfad.dk/download/NorFAD.pdf

  • Schmidt SC, Hillmyer MA (2000) Polylactide sterocomplex crystallites as nucleating agents for isotactic polylactide. J Polym Sci 39(3):300–313

    Google Scholar 

  • Schut JH (2008) PLA biopolymers. Plast Technol 11:66–69

    Google Scholar 

  • Tsuji H (2005) Poly(lactide) Stereocomplexes: Formation, Structure, Properties, Degradation, and Applications. Macromol Biosci 5:569–597

    Google Scholar 

  • Vos, de S (2008) Improving heat-resistance of PLA using poly(D-lactide). Bioplastics Magazine Vol. 3(02):21–25

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to K. Jim Jem .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2010 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Jem, K.J., van der Pol, J.F., de Vos, S. (2010). Microbial Lactic Acid, Its Polymer Poly(lactic acid), and Their Industrial Applications. In: Chen, GQ. (eds) Plastics from Bacteria. Microbiology Monographs, vol 14. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-03287-5_13

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics