L to R researchers Montazar Al-Nijir, Jia Wu, Prof. Chris Chuck, Metro Mayor Dan Norris and researchers Jack Davies and Luca Longanesi
Researchers at the University of Bath have hit on an alternative to palm oil – an edible vegetable-based substitute that could save more of the world’s rainforests from being cut down to grow palm trees.
Palm oil is in nearly everything West of Englanders use including deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick, as well as treats like pizza, doughnuts and chocolate.
But the detrimental effects of this edible veg oil on the world’s remaining rainforests are well known and documented.
Now researchers at the University of Bath say they have hit on an alternative – yeast – with work to start commercial production of this healthier, greener palm oil substitute already underway.
The brainboxes at the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering, led by Prof. Chris Chuck, this week showed Metro Mayor Dan Norris around their dedicated lab and brand-new pilot plant at the university which has begun producing their yeast-based palm oil sub.
He explained to the science-enthused and innovation-focused Metro Mayor how he and his team have spent the last eight years developing a special strain of oily yeast called Metschnikowia pulcherrima, which is also used in South Africa’s wine industry, that produces an oil identically matching palm oil’s key properties.
It is hoped the lab-grown alternative will reduce the detrimental environmental impact of palm oil found in almost 50% of all packaged products on West of England supermarket shelves, according to Prof Chuck. In the past 16 years, acres of rainforest have been cut down in the scramble for palm oil, leading to the deaths of an estimated 100,000 orangutans alone, according to research.
Prof. Chuck went on to say the new lab and plant in the department were set up by food-tech firm Clean Food Group who have acquired the intellectual property developed by the researchers as part of a £1.8 million investment. The firm and university signed a two-year collaboration agreement to scale up the super-exciting and radical new tech – with all of this happening here, in the West of England – and bring this brilliant palm oil alternative to the market.
Metro Mayor Dan Norris said the move puts Bath, and the wider region, on the map a go-to place for science innovation, and technological know-how, as work to bring the end of palm oil is brought closer to reality. He said: “Palm oil is a major driver of deforestation, environmental destruction, and the climate and ecological crises we now face, so this is a really very exciting and potentially groundbreaking development.
Well done to Prof. Chuck and the team for this genuinely world-leading research which will go a long way to making palm oil a relic of the past. It just goes to show that with our brilliant universities and fabulous researchers and innovators, the West of England can achieve anything and everything, and is one of the scientific research centres of not just the whole country, but the whole world too”.
Speaking about the visit, Prof. Chris Chuck added: “It was fantastic to have Mayor Norris visit us here at Bath and learn more about our work to create a sustainable alternative to palm oil. He was really engaged and understands the opportunity we have here, not only to make our food systems more sustainable, but to build research and manufacturing strength here in the South West”.