Lactic Acid is a key ingredient in the production of biodegradable plastics as an alternative to common oil-based plastics. Lactic acid is currently produced from amongst other things dextrose and cannot compete on cost with oil-based products.
Cargill Dow LLC generates a plastic product called PLA (Polylactic acid) from lactic acid on an industrial scale in the USA. To date the most serious cost-inhibitor in establishing further market share for PLA has been the cost of the raw material lactic acid due in large part to the reliance on dextrose. A cheaper source of lactic acid would open up a potentially multi million dollar market.
Lactic acid has an existing and growing market. A major reduction in the cost of lactic acid will open up its use for high-volume plastics markets (such as biodegradable plastic bags). Together with governmental pressure to limit the use of plastics from non-renewable resources this will act as a spur for investment and development in this area.
TMO is investigating whether thermophiles could deliver more efficient methods of producing lactic acid for industrial markets.