Lab-grown oil may soon follow in the footsteps of lab-grown meat, and the innovation is unfolding in a New York City lab where scientists at C16 Biosciences are pioneering an alternative to palm oil. Shara Ticku, the co-founder of C16 Biosciences, recently provided CBS News with a glimpse into their revolutionary lab. Yeast is a crucial component of their innovative process. According to Ticku, palm oil is used in many commonplace items, such as lipstick, hand soaps, and peanut butter to provide a smooth, spreadable emulsion. The United States consumed more than 1.7 million tons of palm oil in 2022 alone, according to Statista. The World Wildlife Foundation has pointed out that the widespread harvesting of palm oil leads to pollution and deforestation, which is one of the environmental effects of its popularity.
C16 Biosciences’ palm oil alternative aims to address these concerns. While the company did not disclose specific production figures, it mentioned generating “metric tons” of the substitute every week. Partnering with beauty companies is just the beginning; C16 Biosciences envisions expanding its reach to the food industry.
Climate economist Gernot Wagner sees promise in this lab-grown approach, stating, “Lab-grown variety may well save the day.” However, he raises a crucial question about scalability and potential negative environmental and societal impacts.
Ticku is confident in the process, emphasizing the efficiency of their method. “Our process today takes about six days from when we start the process until we extract the oil,” she said. In stark contrast, planting and harvesting palm oil traditionally would require seven years.
“This is the power of biology,” Ticku adds, underlining the rapid and sustainable nature of lab-grown alternatives. As companies like C16 Biosciences continue to push the boundaries of scientific innovation, the development of lab-grown oils could offer a more environmentally friendly and scalable solution to the global demand for palm oil.