Start-up grows palm oil alternative for skin care in a lab

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Start-up grows palm oil alternative for skin care in a lab
A Boston-based technology start-up, C16 Bioscience, has developed a lab-grown alternative to palm oil that the developers say could replace potentially environmentally harmful farmed palm oil.

The development team wanted to come up with a viable lab-produced alternative farmed palm oil, a massive industry that is forecast to reach a value of nearly $93 billion by 2021, but also one that has had a significant environmental impact, particularly due to deforestation in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.

The C16 team believes that by coming up with a viable alternative to palm oil that can be grown in a lab using a relatively simply and extremely environmentally-friendly and sustainable method, it may have solved one of the cosmetic and personal care industry’s biggest dilemmas.

A mission to help the palm oil industry

The team was charged with a mission of providing producers, refiners, traders and consumers of palm oil with a bio-based alternative that would reduce the environmental footprint and protect natural lands such as rainforests and the huge ecosystems they harbor.

The premise for the technology is that it relies on a method that ‘brews’ a sustainable alternative to palm oil using microbes.

“We believe that brewing palm oil like beer is the best and most likely path to developing a truly sustainable palm oil alternative,”​ the team says as part of its mission statement.

Bio-fermentation is ke​y

Bio fermentation has been playing an increasing part in the development of ingredients for cosmetics and personal care in recent years, and has come to the fore in the form of microalgae derived from marine sources.

The fermentation process is simple, and not too dissimilar to brewing beer. According to the development team its palm oil alternative is grown in tap water and is fed on either a carbon source or feedstock to encourage it to multiply in the lab.

We believe that brewing palm oil like beer is the best and most likely path to developing a truly sustainable palm oil alternative,”​ the team mission also states.

“Our palm oil is sustainable -- it doesn't involve deforestation, endangering precious animal species, or forcing inhumane labor practices. The result is a world where consumers can enjoy the products they love without worrying about the dangerous practices involved in making them.”

The start-up was founded by a team of scientists that include Harry Mcnamara, co-founder and CSO, Shara Ticku, co-founder and CEO and David Heller, co-founder.

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