This Bill Gates-Backed Company Makes Butter Out Of Thin Air

A Bill Gates-backed startup may have cracked the biggest puzzle of the food industry—how to make good-tasting food without harming the planet. California-based Savor is using carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into butter right in the lab, and that’s just one of the many other fat-based products it can make.

The livestock industry contributes 14.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions. With a burgeoning population, demand for animal-based products is only expected to rise, warming the planet further. In recent years, plant-based alternatives have arrived in the markets. However, the products do not resemble the texture and taste of animal-derived products. Moreover, using palm oil in these products is also a cause of concern, with the palm oil industry engaging in heavy deforestation in various parts of the world.

This is why Savor’s premise sounds so good. The Californian startup has gone to the basics of chemistry to build its product. According to its website, like any molecule, fat also has a fixed chemical formula. It uses carbon dioxide as a starting point to build fat molecules using heat and hydrogen.

Fats and oils are made from chain-like arrangements of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and Savor’s technology helps combine these elements in an animal-free manner.

According to a paper published in 2023, chemical synthesis of dietary fats using such an approach can be achieved with emissions of less than 0.8 g CO2 equivalent per kilogram. Similarly, palm oil produced in Brazil or Indonesia emits more than 1.5 g CO2 equivalent per kg. This could disrupt agriculture and help meet the demand for food with fewer emissions.

Savor is confident that its technology can be used to make butter and multiple other animal-derived fats, such as milk and cheese. The company also plans to use this approach to make ice cream and edible oils.

Another highlight of this tech is that it is highly scalable and could rapidly be deployed to replace animal-derived fats. The only hurdle would be convincing people to adopt a product made using revolutionary tech into their daily lives.

This is where Gates is hopeful he can make a difference. “The idea of switching to lab-made fats and oils may seem strange at first,” Gates wrote in a blog post earlier this year. “But their potential to significantly reduce our carbon footprint is immense. By harnessing proven technologies and processes, we get one step closer to achieving our climate goals.“ The answer perhaps lies in the same reason that makes animal-derived fats hard to beat today—price. Despite all its emissions, livestock farming is inexpensive and can feed many people at affordable costs.

If companies like Savor aim to disrupt food as we consume it, they need to do so at prices that are impossible to beat. With only chemistry to solve and a far lesser need for extensive land and resources, Savor may have a good chance at doing so after all.

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