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Case Study: Swedish researchers identify fat as the newest opportunity for CO₂-derived ingredients

Laura Krishfield, Senior Research Associate and Harini Venkataraman, Ph.D., Analyst
November 1, 2021

In roughly the past five years, the opportunity to produce protein and other ingredients using carbon dioxide (CO2) has captured a great deal of interest from a range of industries. However, the technology remains early-stage, as commercial production is unprecedented, and few developers have established pilot facilities. Moreover, the space faces a number of hurdles, including high costs of production facilities and product validation as well as identifying strategic industrial emitters that are comfortable with building major infrastructure projects to reliably source gas feedstocks. While the initial focus was mainly on food and feed protein production from CO2, these applications are now expanding to other food additives, including fats.

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A Swedish group from the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) is developing an electrochemical process that produces edible fats and free fatty acids using CO2, water, and energy. The process, called "Power to Food," does not use biological processes like the majority of single-cell protein developers but instead uses a catalytic chemical process known as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis to ultimately isolate ethylene, synthesize fatty acid alcohols from the ethylene, and oxidize said fatty acid alcohols to free fatty acids. According to secondary sources, the group claims this approach will be more easily scalable for producing CO2-derived ingredients compared to using biological methods.

The researchers have one granted patent, which describes the method of production. At this time, the group has yet to establish a pilot production facility, and it estimates the costs for the edible fats to be up to three times higher than that of rapeseed oil.

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From an industry perspective, both methods (microbial and electrochemical) for producing CO2-derived ingredients align with the growing demand for utilizing a highly available feedstock that is linked to sustainability initiatives. However, scalability and production costs are major limiting factors for the success of this space that need to be overcome in order to compete with conventional ingredients alongside demonstrating cost-competitiveness. In addition, the technology will compete with other companies like C16 Biosciences and Global Sustainable Transformation, which produce fat alternatives using microbial fermentation. Although the technology can be applicable for palm oil replacement, at this point, clients should monitor the progress of this technology and its scalability milestones.

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