Glycerol Biorefinery Approach for the Production of High Quality Products of Industrial Value

Concept of the project

diesel-renovavel-psThe global production and consumption of biodiesel is in continually increasing, resulting in a stoichiometric increased generation of crude glycerol, due to its co-production in the transesterification process (Luque et al., 2008, Luque et al., 2010 and Thompson and He, 2006). As a consequence, a vast amount of raw glycerol is generated each year and its value on market is being reduced to the point of becoming a “waste-stream” rather than a valuable “coproduct”. Glycerol prices fell, generating a bankruptcy of companies that produce glycerol chemically, reducing 10 times the price of glycerol in the market (Dharmadi et al, 2006; Hu et al., 2010; Singhabhandhu et al., 2010).

Crude glycerol is available in numerous countries throughout the world, since biodiesel is produced as a response to governments ‘green initiatives’. The total EU27 biodiesel production for 2010 was over 8 million metric tons (UE, 2011), but to date an effective use for the glycerol derived from biodiesel production does not exist on the market. GRAIL project is targeted to integrate and develop existing and novel bio-technologies in order to use glycerol as a competitive biological feedstock in a biorefinery approach. Utilization of today crude glycerol waste stream will also improve the economics and environmental viability of biodiesel (FAME) production.

The overall concept of GRAIL project is the use, exploitation and further development of the state of the art in the field of bio-based products from glycerol and the development research-driven cluster for the use of crude glycerol for the production of high-value platforms, as well as valued end products, harnessing the biotech processes. Therefore GRAIL project has a strong business focus and its ultimate goal is to set up implantation of biorefineries in close relationship with biodiesel.

Main ideas

???????The origin of the GRAIL project lies in the usage of previously achieved knowledge in different already finished projects (e.g.GLYFINERY or PROPANERGY) and integrating that knowledge with new one, herein generated to use waste-glycerol as a carbon source for biotechnological applications. Glycerol is not only cheap and abundant, but its greater degree of reduction, compared with C5 and C6 carbohydrates, offers the opportunity to obtain reduced chemicals at a higher yield. On other hands, glycerol can be readily oxidized, halogenated, etherified, and esterified to obtain alternative commodity chemicals. Glycerol has the advantages of being readily

Previous European projects and a growing number of studies focusing on marketable uses for waste-glycerol have proposed several isolated approaches, but their results have failed to integrate a process to resolve the main barriers for the valorisation of this co-product. GRAIL project is born aiming to produce a replicable methodology for using economic and scientific arguments to overcome the main scientific, technological and economical barriers to consider crude glycerol as a suitable feedstock for the production of economically valueadded products.

To date, there is no real use for raw glycerol besides from calorific valorisation, which led to an accumulation and as storage or expend as waste cost for the biodiesel corporations, but because of the abundance of glycerol from biodiesel production and the will to continue with renewable energies, there has been major exploration as to uses for glycerol (Leray, 2010). GRAIL, therefore, proposes a “green process” designed for the manufacture of various high value products and biofuels from glycerol side-streams.

The GRAIL consortium is focused on the development of known and new types of applications using glycerol as the starting material. Reactions that already have been extensively applied to convert glycerol into new molecules, such as oxidations, reductions, dehydrations, etherifications, esterifications, etc., will be replaced by biotransformations, at least in some stage of the process and thereby establish a green biorefinery.

This project’s aim is to develop a set of technologies for converting waste glycerol from biodiesel production.Our approach include the transformation of glycerol into:

  • 1,3 propanediol
  • Fatty acid glycerol formal esters
  • PolyHydroxyAlkanoates (PHA)
  • Hydrogen and Ethanol
  • Synthetic coatings, powder coating
  • resins
  • Secondary Glycerol Amines
  • Biobutanol
  • Trehalose
  • Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)
  • ß-carotene
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Other products

This aim encompasses the following scientific objectives:

  • Review of the state of the art of Commodity Chemicals Derived from Glycerol.
  • Parallel research into completely new options to replace purely chemical transformations by  Biotransformations or chemoenzymatic processes.
  • Identification of least 15 Commodity Chemicals and Biofuels to launch the platform.
  • Generation of at least 1 prototype biorefinery for integral use of glycerol as a feedstock for the production of economically value-added products and biofuels.
  • Integral life-cycle analysis and the evaluation of the ecological effects of the glycerol processing to value added products (food additives, green chemicals and biofuels).
  • Integration of Biodiesel and “Bio-Commodity” chemicals production Processes


Objective 1: Providing enough information on crude glycerol for its introduction in a biorefinery

  • Target 1.1. Analysis and evaluation of glycerol availability and supply
  • Target 1.2. Characteristics of available glycerol
  • Target 1.3. Setting performance specifications for the targeted products
  • Target 1.4. Glycerol treatment for further processing in order to provide a protocol for the purification of glycerol with the required quality
  • Target 1.5. Mass and energy balancing for glycerol processing plant concepts in order to provide a good data base

Objective 2: Transformation of glycerol in biofuels

  • Target 2.1. Biotransformation of Glycerol to hydrogen, ethanol
  • Target 2.2. Biotransformation of Glycerol to biobutanol
  • Target 2.3. Biotransformation of Glycerol to FAGE

Objective 3: Transformation of Glycerol in Green Chemicals

  • Target 3.1. Transformation of Glycerol into propanediol
  • Target 3.2. Transformation of Glycerol into component of resins and polymers
  • Target 3.3. Transformation of Glycerol into butyric acid
  • Target 3.4. Transformation of Glycerol into PHA
  • Target 3.5. Transformation of glycerol into green reactive diluents and solvents

Objective 4: Conversion of Glycerol into food related compounds

  • Target 4.1. Conversion of Glycerol into Trehalose
  • Target 4.2. Conversion of Glycerol into Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)
  • Target 4.3. Conversion of Glycerol into ß-carotene
  • Target 4.4. Conversion of Glycerol into Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)


  • Grail Eu Project: Glycerol Biorefinery Approach for the Production of High Quality Products of Industrial Value

    May 27, 2016

    The article entitled: “Grail Eu Project: Glycerol Biorefinery Approach for the Production of High Quality Products of Industrial Value” has been published and is available online on Bulletin UASVM Food Science and Technology 73(1) / 2016; ISSN-L 2344-2344; Print ISSN 2344-2344; Electronic ISSN 2344-5300, DOI: 10.15835/buasvmcn-fst:11904. Authors: Monica Trif, Berta Álvarez Penedo, Alexandru Rusu Type […]


  • Photos of the GRAIL Open Day – Brussels (Belgium) – March 9th, 2016

    March 10, 2016

    The GRAIL technical meeting and the GRAIL Open Day took place in Brussels on March 8th and 9th, 2016. Please find below some pictures of the event


  • GRAIL e-NEWSLETTER #3 – February 2016

    March 4, 2016

    Project Progress  BIOTRANSFORMATION OF GLYCEROL TO BIOFUELS The biological processes for the biofuel productions are proceeding with the optimization of the different procedures. Hydrogen, ethanol and butanol were produced through different ways of fermentation (batch, fed-batch and continuous), using different type of crude glycerol as substrates. A meeting among WP2 partners will be held on the […]


  • GRAIL Open Day – Brussels (Belgium) – March 9th, 2016

    March 4, 2016

    The GRAIL project Open Day will be held the 9th of March in Brussels (Belgium) at ENEA’s facilities. The GRAIL open day is a dissemination event about the project designed to create awareness about it and its impact to key stakeholders of the field. At this event, different experts from biodiesel industry, politicians, etc. have […]