A lab has developed an alternative to palm oil

Un labo a mis au point une alternative à l’huile de palme


Chocolate creams, ice cream, soap, detergent, lipstick, etc.: palm oil has become a very common ingredient in a multitude of processed foods, detergents, cosmetics and even biofuels. 

In 2019, humanity consumed almost 82 million metric tons of it, with a market estimated to be worth 61 billion dollars that has been continually growing for 50 years. Its production could triple by 2050, reaching 240 million metric tons. Unfortunately, it is responsible for the rapid destruction of tropical rainforests, which are the planet’s most biodiverse areas. 

A New York laboratory, C16 Biosciences, may have found an alternative to replace it. It has developed a synthetic oil harnessing genetically modified micro-organisms to convert food waste and industrial by-products in specialist bioreactors. 

The manufacturing process is reminiscent of beer fermentation, a process known for centuries that consists in transforming raw materials into consumable products through the action of enzymes. 

The by-product from this fermentation has all the characteristics of natural palm oil. According to C16 Biosciences, it even represents the best current alternative to this ingredient omnipresent in our diets.

How to produce a competitive synthetic oil

In order for it to be rolled out on a wide scale, this synthetic palm oil must be as competitive as natural palm oil, whose production cost is very low. With this in mind, C16 Biosciences is currently working on getting it accepted by manufacturers and consumers. 

To test it, it has formed partnerships with end users, producers, refiners, and food wholesalers such as the German group Metro. These users spend around 1.2 billion dollars a year on buying palm oil. 

C16 Biosciences’ research team also wants to extend the use of this biomaterial to non-food products such as washing-up liquid or beauty products. 

With this solution, the researchers hope to greatly reduce palm oil’s environmental footprint in order to protect tropical forests and their priceless flora and fauna. 


“A palm oil alternative could help save rainforests,” BBC, December 15, 2020 - www.bbc.com/news/business-55016453