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Palm oil is responsible for massive deforestation. This startup developed an alternative

C16 Biosciences’ Palmless is a winner in Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas Awards.

Palm oil is responsible for massive deforestation. This startup developed an alternative
[Source photo: C16 Biosciences]

C16 Biosciences is one of the winners of Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas Awards. Explore the full list of projects we’re honoring for making the world more equitable, accessible, and sustainable.

Palm oil is found in 50% of packaged items on supermarket shelves, including shampoo, ice cream, lip balm, and laundry detergent. The $60 billion industry is expected to quadruple by 2050. To produce palm oil, tropical forests are slashed and burned. Together with soy, palm oil drives nearly 20% of deforestation.

In Indonesia, which is the world’s top palm oil producer, palm oil plantations have accounted for an estimated 23% of deforestation and contributed to the 2015 fires that caused $16 billion in damage. That canopy loss is linked not only to greenhouse gas emissions but also to habitat loss. Palm oil trees can grow only in the tropics, the most biodiverse region on Earth.

“It doesn’t make sense that we’re destroying rainforests to make a vegetable oil,” says Shara Ticku, cofounder and CEO of C16 Biosciences, a biotech company on a mission to decarbonize consumer products. In November 2022, C16 Biosciences launched Palmless, a consumer-facing brand for biomanufactured palm oil alternatives. Palmless is the winner of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award in the Nature category.

Palmless uses a precision fermentation process similar to brewing beer; as yeast grows in steel tanks, oil grows in the yeast’s cells. (Yeasts have previously been used to produce biofuel oils too.) This oil is a key ingredient in the first Palmless product, Save the F#$%ing Rainforest Nourishing Oil, a skin and hair oil that launched in February 2023. The beauty industry is “hungry” for this kind of innovation, Ticku says, because at least 70% of all cosmetics are estimated to contain palm oil and palm oil derivatives. Along with its own products, Palmless will make ingredients to replace palm oil in established consumer packaged goods brands.

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