There has been growing interest in the microbial production of optically pure lactic acid due to the increased demand for lactic acid-derived environmentally friendly products, for example biodegradable plastic (poly-lactic acid), as an alternative to petroleum-derived materials. To maximize the market uptake of these products, their cost should be competitive and this could be achieved by decreasing the production cost of the raw material, that is, lactic acid. It is of great importance to isolate and develop robust and highly efficient microbial lactic acid producers. Alongside the fermentative substrate and concentration, the yield and productivity of lactic acid are key parameters and major factors in determining the final production cost of lactic acid. In this review, we will discuss the current limitations and challenges for cost-efficient microbial production of optically pure lactic acid. The main obstacles to effective fermentation are the use of food resources, indirect utilization of polymeric sugars, sensitivity to inhibitory compounds released during biomass treatments, substrate inhibition, decreased lactic acid yield and productivity, inefficient utilization of mixed sugars, end product inhibition, increased use of neutralizing agents, contamination problems, and decreased optical purity of lactic acid. Furthermore, opportunities to address and overcome these limitations, either by fermentation technology or metabolic engineering approaches, will be introduced and discussed.
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