Lactic acid has extensive uses in the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and chemical industry. Lately, its use in producing biodegradable polymeric materials (polylactate) makes the production of lactic acid from fermentation broths very important. The major part of the production cost accounts for the cost of separation from very dilute reaction media where productivity is low as a result of the inhibitory nature of lactic acid. The current method of extraction/separation is both expensive and unsustainable. Therefore, there is great scope for development of alternative technology that will offer efficiency, economic, and environmental benefits. One of the promising technologies for recovery of lactic acid from fermentation broth is reactive liquid-liquid extraction. In this paper the extraction and recovery of lactic acid based on reactive processes is examined and the performance of a hydrophobic microporous hollow-fiber membrane module (HFMM) is evaluated. First, equilibrium experiments were conducted using organic solutions consisting of Aliquat 336/trioctylamine (as a carrier) and tri-butyl phosphate (TBP)/sunflower oil (as a solvent) The values of the distribution coefficient were obtained as a function of feed pH, composition of the organic phase (ratio of carrier to solvent), and temperature (range 8-40°C). The optimum extraction was obtained with the organic phase consisting of a mixture of 15 wt % tri-octylamine (TOA) and 15% Aliquat 336 and 70% solvent. The organic phase with TBP performed best but is less suitable because of its damaging properties (toxicity and environmental impact) and cost. Sunflower oil, which performed moderately, can be regarded as a better option as it has many desirable characteristics (nontoxic, environment- and operator-friendly) and it costs much less. The percentage extraction was approximately 33% at pH 6 and at room temperature (can be enhanced by operating at higher temperatures) at a feed flow rate of 15-20 L/h. These results suggest that the hollow-fiber membrane process yields good percentage extraction at the fermentation conditions and its in situ application could improve the process productivity by suppressing the inhibitory effect of lactic acid.
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