BusinessCan Synthetic Palm Oil Help Save the World’s Tropical...

Can Synthetic Palm Oil Help Save the World’s Tropical Forests?


Over Zoom, Kelleher confirmed off a bluish photograph of Xylome’s proprietary yeast pressure, developed from an oil-producing species known as Lipomyces starkeyi. Through the microscope, the yeast resembled dish cleaning soap suds. “You’re looking at yeast which are literally squashed,” he mentioned. “They’re crushed to the outside wall because of the amount of oil produced in these yeasts.” Fed on corn syrup, the genetically altered pressure is able to giving over the majority of its whole weight to lipids. “They do exactly what we do if we keep feeding ourselves sugar,” mentioned Kelleher. “They get big.”

In 2013, Jeffries, now Xylome’s president, observed the oil from this pressure was remarkably much like palm oil, which is prized for its distinctive mix of saturated and unsaturated fat. This mix is stable at room temperature and liquid at physique temperature—good for chocolate coatings, soaps, and cosmetics. Other components of the versatile palm oil are used as fuels, solvents, lubricants, and in lots of different merchandise, particularly in China, India, and Indonesia.

The resemblance of the yeast oil to palm oil was found by likelihood—Xylome was going for diesel. But Jeffries and Kelleher realized there could be one thing to a palm oil different when Kelleher’s daughter advised him about the rising curiosity in palm-oil-free cosmetics to deal with environmental considerations recognized by years of international activism focusing on unsustainable palm oil.

Though palm oil manufacturing is accountable for lower than 1 % of deforestation globally, in accordance a 2018 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it’s a main reason for deforestation in the tropics. In Borneo, as an example, oil palm cultivation has accounted for greater than half of all deforestation over the previous 20 years. Future demand may contribute to much more deforestation. The identical report discovered that greater than 1 million sq. miles of biodiversity scorching spots may very well be threatened by oil palm cultivation, probably affecting greater than 40 % of all threatened fowl, mammal, and amphibian species, from orangutans and tigers to flycatchers and elephants. This deforestation additionally creates greenhouse gas emissions, as carbon-rich peat constructed up beneath virgin forests is drained, and timber are burned to clear land for planting.

Recognizing these impacts, suppliers—working via organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has licensed palm oil provide chains since 2007—have sought methods to extend oversight of palm oil manufacturing to make sure crops are usually not cultivated on biodiverse or carbon-rich land. While a rising variety of palm growers are licensed, the method has limitations, mentioned Janice Lee, an environmental scientist who research palm oil at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. For occasion, it may be tough to certify smallholder growers, who collectively characterize the majority of palm oil manufacturing in some areas. “Certification is not a silver bullet,” she mentioned. About 20 % of palm oil manufacturing is licensed by the RSPO.

Finding an alternative choice to palm oil has confirmed much more difficult. Other tropical oils—like coconut oil—have decrease yields than oil palm and would have even higher impacts if cultivated on the identical scale. Other non-tropical oils—like soy or corn oil—may be grown outdoors the biodiverse tropics, however they require extra processing to switch palm oil in lots of functions. That processing is pricey, and it produces trans fat, which the FDA banned in the United States in 2015.

Kelleher and Jeffries determined to market their yeast as a greater different. The microbes of their lab produce an oil with a lipid profile nearly an identical to palm oil. The “bugs,” as they confer with the yeast, may also be fed with supplies that don’t require tropical agriculture, comparable to corn or sugar cane, or waste supplies, like corn husks and wheat stalks, which may considerably cut back manufacturing prices. The microbial oils may be produced anyplace, decreasing the distance between manufacturing facility and shopper.

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