Smart Solutions The Rise of Precision Fermentation in the Food Industry
We have long been dependent on animals for numerous food items but this might just change in the coming decade as more and more innovative companies are now developing products such as cheese, ice-creams, egg whites, without the involvement of any animals.
With an ever-growing global population, the demand for food is increasing significantly, especially for products such as milk and meat which are derived from cattle. Farmers raise animals to meet the rising demand, however, the process leads to many environmental issues such as the emission of greenhouse gases along with the usage of limited natural resources including land and water. This scenario needs to change as we can’t afford to take our climate change situation for granted any longer and thus, there is an urgent need to develop innovative and sustainable food solutions for the global population. One such solution to this problem is precision fermentation.
The need for precision fermentation
Micro-organisms form the base for this food production method in which they are genetically engineered and then cultivated in fermentation tanks to produce animal-free fats or proteins. These are then used to produce numerous food items such as cheese, ice-cream, yogurt, chocolates, thus leading to the production of sustainable food. The precision fermentation process is important especially in today’s scenario as it helps to reduce the consumption of water and land as well as lowers the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
According to a report by Markets and Markets, a market research firm, the global precision fermentation market size is estimated to be valued at 1.6 billion dollars in 2022 and is projected to reach 36.3 billion dollars by 2030, recording a CAGR of 48.1 % in terms of value. This shows the huge potential of this market in the food industry.
Examples from the industry
The world’s largest precision fermentation plant: Remilk, one of the major players in the development of animal-free dairy, has plans to build the world’s largest precision fermentation plant in Kalundborg, Denmark. The company makes use of a yeast-based fermentation process to produce animal-free milk proteins which can then be used to produce dairy items such as cheese, ice-cream, etc. It is interesting to note that these products do not contain lactose, cholesterol, and hormones unlike traditional dairy products sourced from animals. The new plant aims to scale the production of these animal-free proteins so that it can become more affordable. Once complete, the plant is expected to produce these proteins in volumes equivalent to that produced by 50,000 cows annually, shares a release by the company.
World’s first integrated precision and mycelium fermentation plant: In Switzerland, the world’s first integrated precision and mycelium fermentation plant is currently being developed by Planetary, a manufacturing platform building bioprocessing capacity globally. The industrial-scale project is claimed to be the first of the many units which will be established across the globe to accelerate the food technology by providing microbial bioprocessing capacity to third parties. The new facility is expected to produce precision fermented compounds, such as proteins and lipids, as well as biomass from mycelium. According to a release, Planetary has also partnered with Glatt Ingenieurtechnik, an expert in integrated process solutions, which will be responsible for planning process technology systems, including media supply, process control and automation, along with safety technology.
Expansion strategy: The world’s first animal-free milk protein was developed by a company called Perfect Day. Today, chocolates, cheese, baked goods, ice-creams, and sports nutrition products are already being manufactured by the firm’s proteins which are produced from microflora. With two facilities in the USA, Perfect Day has recently completed the take-over of the Indian-firm Sterling Biotech, one of the world’s largest gelatin producers, which gives it access to the company’s manufacturing facilities which includes fermentation plants and a microbiology lab. With this acquisition, the firm aims to double its production capability, expand its presence across the globe, as well as strengthen its precision fermentation business.
It gets more interesting from here; Perfect Day has also secured approval from The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to produce its innovative proteins in the country and thus, it intends to scale the production of its precision fermented proteins in order to meet the growing demands around the world and in India. It has also established its enterprise biology business which focusses on assisting companies to explore the use of these proteins in new zones of the food industry by providing them with its specialized technical services.
Accelerating the production of sustainable food: With so much happening in the field of precision fermentation, numerous players across the food industry are eager to diversify into this market. One such example is ‘Scaleup Bio’, the joint venture firm of ADM, a nutrition company, and Singapore’s investor firm – Temasek’s Asia Sustainable Foods Platform which aims at speeding up the production of sustainable food in the Asia Pacific region. Scaleup Bio has plans to build a precision fermentation laboratory with A*Star’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation in Singapore. A release by the firm mentions that the specialized lab will supply fermenters to start-ups that can support up to 100L in capacity, associated downstream processing units and relevant testing, as well as analytical equipment for full optimization.
Engineering food and feed biotechnology plants: The Swiss-based multinational plant equipment manufacturer Bühler Group along with Zeta, an Austrian pharmaceutical and biotechnology firm has recently established a joint venture company called Eridia. With a special focus on precision fermentation and cellular agriculture, the firm aims to engineer food and feed biotechnology plants in this space by developing innovative solutions to accelerate and scale the production of sustainable food.
With success especially in the dairy sector, precision fermentation is also being used by The Every Company to produce animal-free egg white proteins. As the food industry explores more of this process, there is a possibility that many new areas can be further developed to support and solve the global problems of food and climate change. For instance, precision fermentation has also been adopted by Impossible Foods, a firm that creates plant-based substitutes for meat, for making its Impossible Burger taste and smell just like animal-sourced meat.
Similarly, we may witness many more applications of this process but for now, one thing is for sure, precision fermentation is slowly but certainly gaining steam in the food industry!