How can precision fermentation and cellular agriculture evolve?

Proponents of food technology like precision fermentation and cellular agriculture believe their innovation efforts will help feed the growing world population with healthy and sustainable food. By reducing our dependence on animal agriculture, developers of precision fermentation and cultured meat aim to reduce the carbon footprint of the food system, reduce land use and improve water management.

These technologies have generated a lot of enthusiasm and guarantee increasing levels of investment. According to CellAgri’s Cellular Agriculture Investment Report, it took the sector five years to reach the milestone of $1 billion in funding by 2020. In 2021, the field surpassed $2 billion in funding. Data from Food Strategy Associates shows that precision fermentation companies secured approximately $750 million in disclosed investments in 2021.

But aside from issues such as regulatory approval and consumer acceptance, a significant hurdle remains. Scale for impact.

Yvonne Armitage of the Center for Process Innovation (CPI) believes that scale is something that food tech start-ups often don’t think about early enough. “Everyone is focused on getting their product out of the fermenter,”she said at the Future Food Tech conference in London last week.

In cellular agriculture, even the “pathology of the cell itself” stands in the way of scaling up production processes, noted David Brandes, co-founder and CEO of Planetary. Animal cells are “very fragile,” the food tech entrepreneur explained, and taking their production from pilot to commercial scale of, say, 200,000 liters will require innovation on the equipment side.

“Fermentation is a more developed technology,”And it’s here that we’re already seeing the first suggestions that companies are starting to scale their operations, Brandes noted.

Investments in production capacity

MycoTechnology mushroom fermentation food technology is one such pioneer. The US-based group manufactures ingredients using the fibrous structure of mushroom roots, known as mycelium. It operates its own production facility where it harnesses submerged fermentation to produce plant proteins with mushroom mycelia and natural flavor modulators. The company is also establish a business in Oman where it will apply a new ingredient to its proprietary fermentation platform: locally grown dates.

Leveraging Mycelium for Ingredient Development / Photo: GettyImages-Kitchigin

Looking back on how far we have come to this milestone, CEO Alan Hahn said: “The challenges were, first, to raise funds…and second, to convince investors to put steel in the ground. They still want a co-man,”observed the former Silicon Valley executive.

This was the wrong direction for MycoTechnology, which spent a lot of time and resources in unsuccessful efforts to work alongside co-manufacturers. “We were leading the way”Hahn told Food Technology Audience. “We’ve traveled the world… The kind of equipment we needed just didn’t exist.

Although going it alone and developing its own factory may have been a mountain to climb for MychoTechnology, it brought considerable know-how and resulted in over 61 patents, with more still pending.

Nevertheless, collaboration on innovation and production processes and the transition from ideation, to pilot, to production scale have significant advantages, other speakers agreed. Brandes, who leads a Swiss company developing bioprocessing capabilities globally and offering a manufacturing platform that provides industrial scale for fermentation pioneers, stressed that “there is a wide range of options.” to now work alongside co-manufacturers.

Jonathan Berger, CEO of Israeli food tech incubator The Kitchen Hub, sits on the board of holding company and cellular agriculture developer Aleph Foods. He revealed that Aleph decided to take one of these different scale paths. “We are driven by cost reduction, so when there is a way to outsource while protecting our company’s intellectual property, we do it. There are many technology providers,”he noted.

CPI’s Armitage sees outsourcing parts of the development and production process as a way to reduce proposal risk and suggests that collaboration can accelerate innovation in the field as a whole. “Risk reduction is really important”she pointed out. “You can’t scale straight.”

Armitage advises working with someone “who has done a lot of different bioprocesses,” including leveraging cross-industry learnings from sectors like the pharmaceutical industry. This “try before you buy” approach can give companies and investors the confidence to then develop their own production facilities or find the right co-manufacturing partners.

Additionally, she continued, digital technologies can help reduce costs and validate processes, removing some of the trial and error. “You can do computer modeling of your reactors before you get there,”Armitage suggested, pointing to software developments in areas such as digital twins.

GettyImages-Ekkasit919 digital innovation
State-of-the-art digital tools can reduce the risks of moving to production and building scale / Photo: GettyImages-Ekkasit919

Companies looking to scale their new technologies must also consider the end product. “Downstream processing can be very expensive. It’s really important to consider what the ultimate fit of your product will be,”industry consultant advised.

In search of price parity

This cost element is a very big issue for developers of new proteins who have ambitions to disrupt the long-established animal agriculture industry.

Exploiting economies of scale can drive down unit costs, bringing new protein alternatives toward price parity with their animal-based counterparts, it is hoped. “It’s about economies of scale, the more we produce, the less it will cost,”Armitage explained.

Achieving this goal will be a major turning point for the novel food sector, according to Berger, who predicted that precision fermentation and cultured proteins could guarantee 20% consumer acceptance if they cost the same or less than meat. conventional.

Brandes thinks that ambition is not out of reach, suggesting new protein makers are moving quickly toward cost parity. “It’s not a case of cost parity by 2030. We’re already partly there for some technologies,”he suggested.

The MycoTechnology experiment is a good example, according to Hahn.

Discussing the company’s plans to open the factory in Oman, which will take advantage of dates that would otherwise be wasted as raw material for its fermented protein ingredient, the group’s chief executive was confident it would achieve price parity with proteins of animal origin.

“It comes down to throughput, grams per litre, per day… We were very lucky to discover the technology that gave us a whole new generation of feeds.”

Kimberly B. Nguyen