Researchers from the USDA are creating new eco-friendly uses for natural glycerine, a by-product of biodiesel production, which could be used in place of petroleum-based glycerine in everything from disposable razors to credits cards.

For their research, Richard Ashby, Daniel Solaiman and Thomas Foglia of the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa., received the 2008 Glycerine Innovation Award. The award recognizes outstanding achievement for research into new applications for glycerine, with particular emphasis on commercial viability.

The award, sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board and the Soap and Detergent Association, was presented at the 99th annual meeting of the American Oil Chemists’ Society in Seattle.

“Through the development of new eco-friendly commercial uses for glycerine, the USDA is making an important contribution to our global environmental sustainability,” said Steve Howell, NBB’s technical director. “Commercial uses for natural glycerine help improve the overall value of biodiesel production while finding new uses for environmentally friendly, domestically produced products that can replace petroleum-based products.”

The team’s research focused on two classes of bioproducts: biosurfactants known as sophorolipids, which are currently used in “cosmeceutical” applications and automatic dishwashing detergent formulations; and bacterial polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). The PHA polymers have widespread properties, ranging from hard and tough to elastic, and can be used to produce a wide range of items, such as golf tees, disposable razor handles, credit cards, and bottles, to name a few.

Both classes of bioproducts are considered “eco-friendly” as they are produced from renewable resources and can be quickly biodegraded upon disposal.

The ERRC glycerol fermentation team continues to work on improving the cost-effectiveness of these and other related bioprocesses and on partnering with industry to develop the technologies for commercial production.

The National Biodiesel Board supports research for the development of commercially viable applications for natural glycerine as part of the biodiesel industry’s sustainable footprint. The industry’s Sustainability Task Force, comprised of members from the various sectors of the industry and country, is working to ensure that the U.S. biodiesel industry continues to protect the environment, while producing green jobs and reducing dependence on foreign oil.