Bill Gates-Backed C16 Biosciences Creates Lab-Grown Palm Oil

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Palm oil is an essential ingredient in most supermarkets, from shampoo to ice cream, baby formula, and even lipstick. But making palm oil is one of the leading causes of deforestation.

The demand for agriculture-grade palm oil is steadily increasing as manufacturers use this ingredient to make many things. However, creating palm oil is highly destructive and negatively contributes to the Earth’s health.

C16 Biosciences CEO Shara Ticku got her inspiration in creating lab-grown palm oil when she travelled to Singapore in 2013, years before the company was developed. Ticku was on a business trip for Goldman Sachs and was surprised when she was advised to wear an N95 mask due to the terrible air quality at the time.

“I land in Singapore, and the air quality index is over 400. Air quality index: anything over 300 is considered super toxic. In New York right now, it’s probably in the 20s, and that’s for a big city,” Ticku mentions in an interview. 

When she asked her local Singaporean colleagues why the air quality was terrible, she found out that neighbouring countries (Malaysia and Indonesia) were burning rainforests to make palm oil. What’s worse was that she learned this was an annual occurrence.

Ticku wanted to do something about this. While completing her MBA at Harvard, she met Harry McNamara and David Heller, individuals who also witnessed the destructive nature of creating palm oils.

Creating palm oil involves deforestation by deliberately burning down rainforests to make way for growing palm trees. This process also displaced critically endangered animals and heavily contributed to greenhouse gas emissions.

To avoid this, Ticku founded her company and started her work on creating an alternative product to replace palm oil. C16 was created with the help of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the climate tech investing firm funded by Bill Gates.

“One of the reasons we invested in C16 was because we knew they had the potential to turn science into a commercial reality,” stated Carmichael Roberts, part of Gates’ venture.

Ticku developed Palmless, an alternative ingredient designed to replace palm oil. It’s made of yeast, and it is produced inside a lab. C16 hopes to replace the usage of traditional palm oil in manufacturing everyday items with their product and hopefully minimise deforestation.

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