Published November 2015
Lactic acid is widely used as an acidulant, flavor enhancer, and shelf-life extender in foods and beverages; its sodium and potassium salts have preservative and antimicrobial properties. Lactic acid also serves as the starting material for polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable polymer.
North America was the largest consumer of lactic acid in 2015. Polylactic acid production was the major end use for lactic acid; food and beverage applications were second in importance. In Asia and Oceania—the second-largest consuming region—food and beverage applications drove consumption, with industrial end uses and PLA manufacture playing smaller roles.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of lactic acid:
Food and beverage applications accounted for the largest share of world lactic acid consumption in 2015. PLA manufacture was the second-largest end use. By 2020, PLA manufacture is expected to be the leading application for lactic acid.
In the United States, lactic acid consumption is driven by the growing PLA market. Demand for PLA in food-packaging applications and other established end uses continues to increase, and new applications such as three-dimensional printing filament are emerging. Growth in US lactic acid consumption for food and beverages will be somewhat limited by competition from alternative antimicrobial solutions such as vinegar.
Western European lactic acid use is driven by consumption in food and beverages. At present, the region has limited PLA production capacity, relying on imports to satisfy demand. Consumption of lactic acid is expected to grow moderately during 2015–20.
In China, the food and beverage sector is the largest end-use segment; lactic acid and its salts serve as acidulants and preservatives, respectively. Consumption of lactic acid for PLA production (a comparatively small-volume end use at present) will increase significantly during the forecast period. Average annual consumption of lactic acid for PLA manufacture is expected to grow at double-digit rates during 2015–20. China is a significant exporter of lactic acid.
In Japan, the food and beverage sector is the largest end use for lactic acid, followed by industrial applications, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. Consumption of lactic acid for PLA production—currently the smallest end use—is expected to grow at double-digit rates during 2015–20; all other sectors will experience moderate growth. Japan relies on domestic lactic acid as well as imports from China, Thailand, and other countries.
Worldwide lactic acid consumption is expected to continue to increase significantly, at an average annual rate of more than 6% per year from 2015 to 2020. Robust demand growth is expected in the United States, China, and Other Asia as a result of increased PLA production. In other regions, where lactic acid demand is driven mainly by food applications, moderate consumption growth is expected.