Creating fat from thin air: Start-up hopes to bring tropical fat replacement made using carbon dioxide and electricity to market in 2024

Industry is at present rushing to find suitable alternatives to tropical oils and fats as demand shifts away from animal fats. Hard vegetable fats like palm, coconut, shea and cocoa can only be grown in the tropics and bring health and environmental sustainability concerns.

Meanwhile, those oils that come from plants grown in milder European climates such as soya, sunflower and canola that can be converted into hard fats involve hydrogenation, which can produce dangerously unhealthy trans fats.

This issue was recently brought to the fore by the influential food blogger and development chef Anthony Warner, aka the Angry Chef.

“A move back to animal fats is not the answer, because when produced at scale, these place an even higher toll on habitats and climate,”​ he wrote. “But unless we are planning to reinvent our food system, hard fats will need to come from somewhere.”

One company developing a solution is Sweden-based foodtech and B2B ingredient company Green-On.

It has unveiled patented proprietary technology to produce food ingredients, especially oil and fat for the food and feed industry, that can mimic and replace tropical fats such as palm and coconut oil as well as animal fat, in what it calls a truly sustainable way.

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The start-up claims to produce the same bioidentical saturated fat molecule found in tropical plants such as coconut, palm oil and animal sources.

The race to grow food from air 

Finland’s Solar Foods famously pioneered the concept of producing protein from ‘thin air’ or via a combination of carbon dioxide, air and electricity. Green-On is taking the concept to make fat.

It uses a technology based on a ‘power-to-food’ concept inspired by the term ‘power-to-X’, which refers to the conversion of electricity into something else. A recent report by the Danish energy company suggested power-to-X technology is key to European energy independence.

Green-On’s approach combines capture of carbon dioxide, renewable or fossil-free electricity and water to produce the same bioidentical saturated fat molecule (triglyceride) found in tropical plants such as coconut, palm oil and animal sources.

Its saturated fat can be custom made for the specific application and can be used in a variety of processed food products such as cheese, baked goods, ice-cream, chocolate and shortening. It can also provide mono- and diglycerides that are used as emulsifiers in a variety of food products. In addition, the company claims it can produce food in the dark and in areas where food production normally cannot take place, providing food security alongside a sustainable production. 

“The unique thing with our technology is that we bypass agriculture altogether,”​ Green-on CEO Annette Graneli told FoodNavigator. “We don’t use any arable land or fertilizers and use less water. It’s a chemical process. We use the power-to-X or power-to-food concept. The starting point is electricity, carbon dioxide and water. Then in a step-by-step process we build the fat molecules. We produce the exact same molecules as plants and animals do so there’s nothing different there, though we can custom make the types of produced fats to fit the purpose.”​  

The power-to-X technology has the potential to accelerate the development of sustainable ingredient solutions for food and technical products, the company believes.

She continued: “There is a big interest in this type of product. We are in discussions with potential customers all over the world that are in need for replacing animal or tropical solid fat. We hope our technology can relief the stresses of agricultural production. Fat is a quite simple molecule compared to proteins which is why this technology works for these types of molecules. That’s why we’re targeting fats and oils using this technology.”

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Another Green-On prototype

An ‘important step’ towards industrial production

The company recently announced two new partners that will invest undisclosed amounts in the company: Sweden-based vegetable oils and fat producer AAK and the Stockholm-based early start-up fund Norrsken Impact Accelerator. Green-On is also supported by the early stage accelerator Big Idea Ventures.

These investments will allow the Gothenburg-based company to take a big step towards commercialization and scaling, it said.

“We’re still in development and don’t have products out yet. We will have a product out at the earliest in 2024,”​ Graneli told us, regulatory approval of its unique production process aside. 

As part of the investment, AAK will provide expertise in oils and fats as well as facilities to support and further develop Green-On and its work.

“AAK is a great partner that now invests in the company – together we have the possibility to develop both the process and upcoming products for our ultra-sustainable oils and fat,”​ she said.

Anders Lorén, CTO of Green-On, added: “It’s really strengthening that an industrial partner as AAK sees the large potential of our technology, both for production of ultra-sustainable food ingredients as well as the possibility to create new types of products.”

Karsten Nielsen, Chief Technology Officer at AAK, said: “Besides palm oil, there are today very few plant-based oils with which we can create the functionality of solid, high-melting fats, which are used in, for example, plant-based meat.

“This technology provides the exact part of the fat that is needed to create the functionalities of future food production and with a much lower environmental impact than any other known technology today, making it a perfect fit with AAK’s strategy.”

Big Idea Ventures Managing General Partner Andrew D Ive said: “We help accelerate change by bringing together great companies and strategic corporate partners. Green-On and AAK is the perfect example of how corporates and start-ups can work together to create solutions delivering a sustainable food future.”

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