Planet Care

264: Synthetic palm oil


Conflict palm oil, used in shampoos, soaps, detergents and lipsticks, to food products like packaged bread, biscuits, margarine, ice cream and chocolate, is also responsible for the rapid deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino.


Synthetic palm oil

C16 Biosceiences Technology was started up in 2017 by David Heller, Andrew Shumaker and Shara Ticku of New York to advance their solution which uses microbiology to brew sustainable alternatives to palm oil which is nearly chemically and functionally identical to palm oil and no longer requires deforestation or inhumane labour practices.

Technically, they have developed microoganisms and methods for producing lipids by co-culturing a photosynthetic microorganism with a heterotrophic microorganism to produce a culture medium having a titer of lipids.

Earlier in 2020, C16 Biosciences received a $20m (£15m) investment from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund backed by Bill Gates and the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Virgin’s Richard Branson.

C16 Biosciences is not the only organisation looking to come up with a synthetic alternative. Researchers lead by Chris Chuck are working on something similar at the UK’s University of Bath, England

In Hayward, California, Lisa Dyson and John Reed at Kiverdi have developed and pateneded PALM+, a synthetic palm oil made from CO² fermentation, based on NASA research in the 1960s, Kiverdi says its process requires 1/10,000th the space to produce the same amount of oil. They have also applied their solution to produce MicroFeed, a protein-rich meal that can be fed to fish in aquaculture.

Indonesia’s Golden Agri-Resources, one of the world’s largest privately-owned palm oil plantation companies is focused on improving its yield per hectare with new variants of its natural oil palm trees such as the Dami Mas, cloned and genetically mapped, as well as their Eka 1 and Eka 2, planting materials created through cloning and tissue culture process at their SMART Biotechnology Centre in Sentul, Indonesia.

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