Lactic acid is an important chemical with numerous commercial applications that can be fermentatively produced from biological feedstocks. Producing lactic acid from corn grain could complement the use of already existing infrastructure for corn grain-based ethanol production with a higher value product. The objective of this study was to evaluate the techno-economic feasibility of producing 100,000 metric tons (t) of lactic acid annually from corn grain in a biorefinery. The study estimated the resources (equipment, raw materials, energy, and labor) requirements and costs to produce lactic acid from bacteria, fungi and yeast-based fermentation pathways. Lactic acid production costs were $1181, $1251 and $844, for bacteria, fungi and yeast, respectively. Genetically engineered yeast strains capable of producing lactic acid at low pH support significantly cheaper processes because they do not require simultaneous neutralization and recovery of lactic acid, resulting in lower requirements for chemical, equipment, and utilities. Lactic acid production costs were highly sensitive to sugar-to-lactic-acid conversion rates, grain price, plant size, annual operation hours, and potential use of gypsum. Improvements in process efficiencies and lower equipment and chemical costs would further reduce the cost of lactic acid production from corn grain.
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