First Plant in the Works to Turn Dairy Byproducts Into Plastics

The company Glanbia Ireland is planning to construct the first industrial biorefinery that transforms dairy waste products into lactic acid, a building block for biodegradable plastics.

Supported by the EU project AgriChemWhey, Glanbia Ireland plans to scale up biorefinery technology that ferments dairy waste, like whey permeate, into lactic acid, using a group of bacteria called lactic acid bacteria.

The processing of milk gives rise to residues that are currently of ‘low value’, with potential for environmental pollution if not managed properly,” Hilda Keane, a Project Coordinator at Glanbia Ireland, told me.

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AgriChemWhey will offer an opportunity to ‘upgrade’ these residues, which are a cheap and readily available source of fermentable sugar, and an alternative to virgin resources that demand land.

The biorefinery is planned to be built in Ireland, and could be the first of its kind to reach an industrial scale. At the moment, the team aims to have the plant fully operational by 2022, capable of processing 25,000 tons of dairy waste per year.

Currently the pilot plant facilities are in place and operational, meaning the AgriChemWhey process itself is being further refined every day,” Keane explained. “The next step is scaling this up to the full biorefinery.

In addition to lactic acid, the plant could also produce other useful chemicals such as essential minerals for human nutrition and fertilizers.  

Biorefineries are part of a general strategy for making many industries more sustainable in the EU. The French biotech Afyren plans to open the first industrial-scale plant for recycling organic waste into industrial chemicals such as acetic acid. An EU project is also working on fermenting forestry waste into the chemical 2,3-butanediol, which is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and more. 


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