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ORLEN Południe launches lactic acid pilot plant

ORLEN Południe launches lactic acid pilot plant
ORLEN Południe is investing in a pilot plant for the production of bio-based lactic acid at its Trzebinia refinery in Poland (photo courtesy PKN ORLEN). 

In Poland, ORLEN Południe, a subsidiary of oil refiner Polski Koncern Naftowy ORLEN S.A (PKN ORLEN), has announced that it has launched the country's first pilot plant for the production of organic lactic acid using molasses and microorganisms.

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The PLN 10 million project is sited at ORLEN Południe’s refinery in Trzebinia. Once the pilot is completed, the plant is to be expanded, with the lactic acid output to be ultimately increased to 5,000 tonnes a year.

This would cover more than half of the domestic demand for the bioproduct, which has a broad range of modern industrial applications, including in the chemical, food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries.

We are building capabilities in innovative fields, maximizing profits, and strengthening our competitive advantage. We were the first in Poland to start making lactic acid using microorganisms, said Daniel Obajtek, President of the Management Board of PKN ORLEN.

Widely used chemical

Lactic acid is widely used in various industries, also as an acidulant and preservative. In the bakery industry, it improves the texture and volume of baked products.

Lactic acid and its derivatives find applications in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries as natural moisturizing factors. The product can also be used to make eco-friendly materials as an alternative to plastic.

Polylactic acid (PLA) made from lactic acid is an input in the manufacture of biodegradable packaging and other products. PLA is applied in the construction, engineering, optics, and automotive industries.

Thanks to its properties, including transparency, it is also used to make solar PV panels.

Five-tonnes per year pilot

In making its lactic acid, ORLEN Południe relies on microorganisms that convert organic substrates into a quality, environmentally-friendly product. The key substrate for the process is molasses, a by-product of sugar production.

Previously, Poland had no domestic sources of lactic acid, and demand from customers across the CEE region had to be covered with imports from Asia and Western Europe.

In its pilot phase, the new plant will produce five tonnes of lactic acid a year. Its launch marks the first step towards achieving full-scale annual production of up to 5,000 tonnes.

As the annual demand for lactic acid in Poland is roughly 8,000 tonnes ORLEN Południe will ultimately cover more than half of domestic demand for the product.

We are creating a bioproduct that is steadily growing in demand around the world. The green project implemented by ORLEN Południe is bound to deliver tangible business value and mark another big step on our way to transforming the company into a state-of-the-art biorefinery. It will also support the delivery of our strategic objectives geared towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, ended Daniel Obajtek.

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