Science and Environment

Inexpensive lactic acid produced from sago palm

- Ghio Ong, Helen Flores -

A researcher from the University of the Philippines in Mindanao has developed a technology to produce inexpensive lactic acid from the sago palm.

Dulce Flores, of the UP-Mindanao’s Department of Food Science and Chemistry, discovered a new streptococcus strain called Enterococcus faecium, which has the capability of converting sago starch directly into lactic acid without the need for the costly pre-enzymatic treatment.

Lactic acid is a colorless acid found in sour milk. It is used as a preservative in dyeing and in making adhesives and pharmaceuticals.

Flores’ study entitled, “Biotechnological Utilization of Sago Starch into High-value Products: Direct Lactic Acid Fermentation of Sago Starch,” won first prize in the seventh Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development’s (PCIERD) Science and Technology fora and competitions in industry and energy research and development.

PCIERD is an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology.

“The best strain as a lactic acid producer is now deposited in the Philippine National Collection of Microorganisms at the Biotech in UP Los Banos,” Flores said in a press conference in Quezon City.

Flores said the sago palm (Metroxylon sagu) is found in the marshy areas of Agusan, Surigao, Davao Oriental, and western Mindanao and in the Liguasan Marsh.

“The target of the study was to find a starch source which is not presently utilized for food and which is abundant locally,” she said.

Flores said lactic acid of high purity required in the medical industry is costly.

“Medical applications include the use of high-quality polylactic acid or PLA in filling gaps in bones, producing surgical sutures, medical glue, used in joining membranes or thin skins in humans, and medical implants, among others,” Flores said.

Citing a 2004 report, Flores said the economic potential of lactic acid in the world market as compared to simply importing it as plain sago starch was 300 percent more.

She said sago starch sells at $200 per ton, while food grade lactic acid is bought at $65,000 per ton.

“The need to produce a high volume of inexpensive lactic acid has led researchers around the world today to find an alternative process from the chemical synthesis route which produces only a racemic mixture of lactic acid, to a fermentation process that produces high purity of the stereoisomer without certain impurities, required for the polymerization step,” she said.

“As of this time, the race is about finding a low-cost fermentation process for an equally low-cost abundant carbohydrate feedstock,” she added. 

Research showed that in medicine, lactate is one of the main components of the Ringer’s lactate or lactated Ringer’s solution. It is most commonly used for fluid resuscitation after blood loss due to trauma, surgery or a burn injury.

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