Palm oil is in many of the foods we eat and the products we use, making it more ubiquitous in our lives than we realise. However, it is responsible for the rapid deforestation of some of the world’s most important and biodiverse rainforests. Thankfully, a biotech company says that it has come up with a solution- a synthetic alternative that doesn’t involve tearing down forests- that could replace natural palm oil in everything from shampoos, soaps and lipsticks, to packaged bread, biscuits and chocolate.
C16 Biosciences is one of the firms working to pioneer a synthetic alternative. Researchers are working on something similar at the UK’s University of Bath and at California-based-start-up Kiverdi.
Shara Ticku, founder of C16 Biosciences, describes the process further: “It’s a yeast, we feed it sugars, then the yeast grows and they’re able to produce large amounts of oil within their cells, and we have to squeeze out that oil or extract it.”
These projects have a similar fermentation process. At C16 Biosciences, this involves using genetically-engineered microbes to convert food waste and industrial by-products into a product that is chemically very similar to natural palm oil.