Bill Gates-Backed Bioscience Firm Will Release a Vital Palm Oil Substitute Called Palmless

Nick Terran
By Nick Terran

The quest for a sustainable palm oil alternative is gaining momentum, and C16 Biosciences, a company endorsed by Bill Gates, is leading the charge. Next year marks a significant milestone for the company with the launch of its first commercial product line.

C16 Biosciences specializes in producing oils and fats through biomanufacturing and has recently celebrated a major achievement with its first industrial-scale 50,000-liter fermentation. This progress paves the way for the introduction of Palmless, the company’s consumer brand platform.

Shara Ticku, co-founder and CEO of C16 Biosciences, highlights the significance of this launch: “The launch of Palmless is a big step forward in making a palm oil alternative a reality. Consumer brands have been seeking a palm alternative for years, but have lacked a real solution – until now.” She emphasizes the importance of companies using Palmless in their products to show their commitment to reducing climate change impact, acknowledging consumer demand for such change.

Shara Ticku

Palm oil is the secret sauce of modern life – the “world’s flex crop.” It’s the unsung hero in half the items filling your grocery cart, from the food you munch to the shampoo that revives your hair, even sneaking into your car’s fuel tank. Ever wondered why chocolate doesn’t turn your hands into a gooey mess, or how your soap magics away stubborn stains? Or what makes your peanut butter glide effortlessly onto toast? Thank palm oil for these little daily miracles.

The widespread use of palm oil, found in about half of all household products and food items, has long been a source of environmental concern. It’s a major driver of tropical deforestation in Southeast Asia, threatening species like the orangutan. A 2020 study found that draining young palm oil plantations leads to a 50% increase in CO2 emissions.

The pursuit of palm oil has left hundreds of thousands of acres, some protected, devastated.

The search for palm oil alternatives has intensified, but until now, choices have been limited mainly to more ethically sourced palm oil, like fair-trade or deforestation-free certified products. Companies like Zero Acre Farms are exploring cultured oils created through fermentation, having secured $37 million in Series A funding earlier this year.

Despite global efforts to cut down on palm oil use and raise awareness of its environmental impact, U.S. imports of palm oil have surged by nearly 30% over the past eight years. The global palm oil market, valued at $68 billion in 2023, is expected to continue growing at a 5.1% CAGR through 2032, according to both Grandview Research and Precedence Research.

Carmichael Roberts of Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which backed C16’s $20 million Series A in 2020, expressed confidence in the company’s ability to transform scientific potential into a commercial reality. He views Palmless as a “challenger brand” that empowers consumers to make environmentally responsible choices.

Palmless by C16 is set to address the demand in various consumer packaged goods, including food items. The company has plans to introduce Palmless beauty products in 2023.

Ticku asserts the broader implications of this development: “Palmless is more than the start of commercial roll-out of C16 Biosciences’ technology. It’s also about holding manufacturers and brands to a higher standard: a better option is available.” She concludes with a powerful call to action, noting, “There are no more excuses.”

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