World-leading palm oil alternative to be manufactured at University of Bath after deal with food tech firm

August 5, 2022

The University of Bath is to start commercial production of a viable alternative to palm oil that could help reduce the huge environmental damage caused by its extraction.

UK-based food-tech business Clean Food Group has set up a dedicated laboratory and pilot plant at the university following the acquisition of intellectual property (IP) developed over the past eight years by its Department of Chemical Engineering. 

The firm has also signed a two-year collaboration agreement with the university to scale the technology and bring its palm oil alternative to market, with academic and team leader Prof Chris Chuck joining the firm as a technical advisor.

Prof Chuck is now leading a team of scientists at the university’s Clean Food Group laboratory and pilot plant.

The revolutionary lab-grown cellular-based alternative could help reduce the detrimental environmental impact of a range of palm-based ingredients now found in nearly half of all packaged products, ranging from lipstick to pizza dough, shampoo and ice cream.

The global palm oil sales, which were valued at $50.6bn (£41.6bn) in 2021, are expected to reach $65.5bn by 2027, despite its production continuing to be a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse habitats, impacting critically endangered species such as the orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino.

This process, combined with the conversion of carbon-rich peat soils, is also pouring millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change, while associated concerns include the exploitation of workers and child labour. 

Clean Food Group’s mission is to be part of the solution to this environmental crisis – beginning with the production of its palm oil alternative.

Prior to its acquisition, the University of Bath had spent more than £4.4m developing the palm oil alternative technology to the stage where it was ready for scale-up and commercialisation.

Prof Chuck said the acquisition and further investment meant a range of more sustainable products displacing palm oil could now be brought to market.

“Our dependence on palm oil comes at a great environmental cost,” he added.

“We’ve worked over many years to create robust palm oil alternatives that give us a real chance to cut the impact of a range of products that until now have only been possible to produce with palm oil and the deforestation, pollution and emissions that come with it.”

London-based Clean Food Group has held a number of financing rounds, including a recently completed seed round of £1.65m led by Agronomics, a specialist investor in cellular agriculture.

Following the deal, Agronomics director, billionaire businessman and investor Jim Mellon, has joined Clean Food Group’s board.

Other early investors include AIM-listed SEED Innovations, a leading global food and beverage company, as well as venture capital investors.

Clean Food Group co-founder and CEO Alex Neves said: “We are delighted to work with Prof Chuck and his growing Clean Food Group team at the University of Bath to bring a commercially viable and sustainable alternative to palm oil to market. 

“We have seen such significant demand for our seed financing round and are particularly excited to be working with Agronomics, widely recognised as a pioneer of the cellular agriculture investment community, as our cornerstone investor. 

“With this funding round now successfully completed, we are not only well capitalised to complete the next stage of our corporate development but are also well placed to take the next step on the path to bringing our palm oil alternative, an ingredient with the potential to solve substantial environmental, food security, health and working environment challenges within the incumbent palm oil supply chain, to market.”

He said the business  would now invest in securing regulatory approval for its palm oil alternative ingredients in multiple markets.

“We will also be investing in the development of a large-scale pilot plant which will allow us to enter into meaningful collaborations with commercial partners and to demonstrate our palm oil alternative within finished products,” he added.

“We have already received significant market interest with regards to this.”

Image courtesy of Laurie Lapworth 


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