Three paths forward for sustainable palm oil May 2022
By Rebecca Guenard
In This Section
- Cloaking a cure: Lipid capsules save the world, February 2023
- From the farmers market to store shelves, January 2023
- Dogma vs. data: Rethinking linoleic acid, November/December 2022
- Improving food packaging, October 2022
- Proteins for meat alternatives: new competition for soy and wheat, September 2022
- Fish heads, fish heads: For biosurfactant production July/August 2022
- Mimicking mother’s milk June 2022
- Three paths forward for sustainable palm oil May 2022
- Is it time to reconsider the role of saturated fats in the human diet? April 2022
- The continued struggle over biofuel feedstocks March 2022
- A new kind of plant breeding February 2022
- The new bio-based surfactant feedstock January 2022
- Lipid role in the immune system November/December 2021
- New essential dietary lipids? October 2021
- Gut Instincts September 2021
- Can computers make better plant-based foods? July/August 2021
- Poisson from a petri dish June 2021
- The latest additions to eco-friendly cleaning May 2021
- Preserving emulsions with plant-based antioxidants April 2021
- Developments in green surfactants for enhanced oil recovery March 2021
- Alternative base oils: a perspective March 2021
- The COVID-19 pandemic, one year later March 2021
- The green machine: commercializing microalgae products February 2021
- Bio-based (edible) oils: feedstock for lubricants of the future January 2021
- The latest on liposomes January 2021
- Fatty acids and athletic performance November/December 2020
- Where are lubricants headed November/December 2020
- New developments in vegetable oil materials science October 2020
- Agriculture at risk: preparing the oilseed industry for a warmer world September 2020
- Science highlights from a cancelled 2020 AM&E July/August 2020
- Managing your career in times of change June 2020
- Lipidomics comes of age May 2020
- Minimally processed oils April 2020
- The high-throughput frontier March 2020
- Nurturing innovation: how AOCS industries are fostering progress February 2020
- The trouble with studying omega-3s and the brain January 2020
- Understanding pulse anti-nutrients January 2020
- Digitizing manufacturing: how companies are using data to improve production November/December 2019
- Weaving together genetics, epigenetics, and the microbiome to optimize human nutrition October 2019
- Taking the cream out of ice cream September 2019
- Science highlights from St. Louis July/August 2019
- Biotechnology conquers consumer goods June 2019
- Cool characterization methods and where to find them May 2019
- Fermentation, the new protein supply chain April 2019
- Oleogels for drug delivery March 2019
- The complexity of clean-label cosmetics February 2019
- Rethinking plastic packaging January 2019
- Trends in synthetic and natural antioxidants for shelf life extension of meat and meat products November/December 2018
- The icing on the cake October 2018
- Enhancing oxidative stability and shelf life of frying oils with antioxidants September 2018
- Under arrest: investigating factors that govern partial coalescence July/August 2018
- Unconventional Oils June 2018
- Beauty from within May 2018
- Pulses rising April 2018
- Lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey March 2018
- Clean meat February 2018
- What makes your shortening suitable for fancy croissants, puff and Danish pastry? January 2018
- Strategic role of peanuts in sustainable global food security November/December 2017
- Science beyond borders: international student exchange October 2017
- Clean label: the next generation September 2017
- Science snapshots from Orlando July/August 2017
- Five new AOCS methods June 2017
- The whys and wherefores of life-cycle assessment May 2017
- China’s evolving edible oils industry April 2017
- The mysterious case of the arsenolipids March 2017
- Red palm oil February 2017
- The Highs and Lows of Cannabis Testing October 2016
- Chia: Superfood or superfad? January 2017
- Generational training divide November/December 2016
- Storage stability of roasted nuts and stabilization strategy using natural antioxidants September 2016
- Good vibrations: online and at-line monitoring of edible oils with vibrational spectroscopy July/August 2016
- Benchtop NMR spectroscopy for meat authentication June 2016
- Coconut oil boom May 2016
- Sink or swim: fish oil supplements and human health April 2016
- Pulsed electric field: groundbreaking technology for improving olive oil extraction March 2016
- Prescribing dietary fat: therapeutic uses of ketogenic diets February 2016
- Organogels of vegetable oil with plant wax January 2016
- The power of peptides November/December 2015
- Separation anxiety: membrane cleaning in the 21st century October 2015
- Using direct solid phase extraction to analyze persistent organic pollutants in oily food samples September 2015
- Big fat controversy: changing opinions about saturated fats June 2015
- Use of spent bleaching earth for economic and environmental benefit May 2015
- An introduction to cosmetic technology April 2015
- Food texture and nutrition: the changing roles of hydrocolloids and food fibers March 2015
- Scientists rank thousands of substances according to potential exposure level March 2015
- Clean smell does not always equal clean air February 2015
- Biotechnology: Using living systems to solve problems February 2015
- Flush to fuel January 2015
- 1970s fish oil study criticized January 2015
- Developing a high-performance, low-streak degreaser November/December 2014
- Detection, monitoring, and deleterious health effects of lipid oxidation November/December 2014
- Modified protein mimics taste and texture of fat October 2014
- Development of the first efficient membrane separations of cis fatty acids October 2014
- Regulatory updates on FSMA and combustible dust September 2014
- How enzymes are transforming manufacturing September 2014
- Two advances in biodiesel technology July/August 2014
- 2014 AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo July 2014
- Peanut genome sequenced June 2014
- A customized approach to frying oil June 2014
- Omics reveals subtle changes in carbon flux that lead to increased oil biosynthesis in oil palm May 2014
- Cannabis testing: a review of the current landscape May 2014
- Industrial hemp gaining traction April 2014
- Emulsions: making oil and water mix April 2014
- Lipid co-oxidation of proteins: One size does not fit all March 2014
- FSMA marches on March 2014
- Disruptive technology? Walmart’s “green” product line may signal a big change February 2014
- Pathways to novel chemicals February 2014
- Specialty lipids in pet nutrition January 2014
- EFSA releases preliminary report on occurrence of 3-MCPD in food January 2014
- Seven new biobased surfactant technologies November/December 2013
- Do oil color scales make you see red . . . or yellow? November/December 2013
- Shortage leads to green route to olefins October 2013
- Sesamol: a natural antioxidant for frying oil September 2013
- FSMA update September 2013
- Patent rights and biotech seeds July August 2013
- The other vitamin E July 2013
- Frac fever heats up June 2013
- Fat fight: Catch-22 for Western oleochemicals? June 2013
- Health and Nutrition News April 2013
- FDA asks for fees from industry to fund FSMA June 2013
- What does it take to start a biodiesel industry? April 2013
- What’s in a Claim? Would a Food Not Labeled “Natural” Taste as Sweet? March 2013
- Regulatory overview March 2013
- The preservative wars February 2013
- Plants producing DHA February 2013
- Swift response to paper on feeding GMO corn, glyphosate January 2013
- AOCS: supporting international standards January 2013
- TSCA and the regulation of renewable chemicals July August 2013
- trans Fatty acid content of foods in China January 2013
- A novel green catalytic process for biodiesel production from Jatropha November/December 2012
- The America Invents Act: Groundbreaking US patent law changes are here November/December 2012
- “Super Phos” esters: the key to higher-performance products November/December 2012
- Advances in field-portable mass spectrometers for on-site analytics October 2012
- EFSA sets upper intake level for LC-PUFA October 2012
- Malaysia: economic transformation advances oil palm industry September 2012
- High-oleic canola oils and their food applications September 2012
- Using enzymes to prepare biobased surfactants July/August 2012
- Oilseeds: at the center of food, water, and energy security July/August 2012
- Health & Nutrition News June 2012
- Hydrocolloids get personal June 2012
- The secrets of Belgian chocolate May 2012
- Plants “remember” drought, adapt May 2012
- The power of mass spectrometry in the detection of fraud April 2012
- Oil in biomass: a step-change for bioenergy production? April 2012
- The Future of LAB March 2012
- World supplies of rapeseed and canola likely to remain tight in the 2012/13 season March 2012
- Methods for differentiating recycled cooking oil needed in China February 2012
- Supercritical fluid-based extraction/processing: then and now February 2012
- Singapore: the place to be in 2012 February 2012
- The Food Safety Modernization Act and its relevance to the oilseed industry February 2012
- Oilseeds in Australia January 2012
- Hydrogen peroxide in home-care formulations November 2011
- A new generation of renewable fuels is on the horizon November 2011
- Omega-3 fatty acids: $13 billion global market October 2011
- Soy and breast cancer October 2011
- EU approves food labeling rules September 2011
- IOM panel recommends tripling vitamin D intake: Panel’s conservative approach receives criticism September 2011
- Self-assembly of lyotropic liquid crystals: from fundamentals to applications August 2011
- Sustainability watch July 2011
- Sustainability Watch July 2011
- Are algae really feasible as fuel? June 2011
- The trouble with crystal polymorphism June 2011
- Insect oils: Nutritional and industrial applications May 2011
- Reconstructing formulas April 2011
- US eggs now lower in cholesterol April 2011
- How to control eating behavior--in mice March 2011
- Maybe we don’t know beans March 2011
- Short- and long-term price forecasting for palm and lauric oils February 2011
- New 3-MCPD (glycidol ester) method February 2011
- Regulatory issues associated with the international oils & fats trade January 2011
- Point-counterpoint on UC Davis olive oil report January 2011
- Biomass--The next revolution in surfactants? December 2010
- One person’s response to a high omega-6 diet November 2010
- Crop residues as feedstock for renewable fuels November 2010
- Universal detectors for determination of lipids in biodiesel production October 2010
- New very long chain fatty acid seed oils produced through introduction of strategic genes into Brassica carinata October 2010
- Surfactants based on monounsaturated fatty acids for enhanced oil recovery September 2010
- Questioning the virginity of olive oils September 2010
- Dietary guidelines report released August 2010
- Keeping up with detergent chemistry August 2010
- News from the Expo floor July 2010
- Degumming revisited July 2010
- First high-GLA safflower oil on market June 2010
- AOCS 2.0 debuts June 2010
- Palm fatty acid distillate biodiesel: Next-generation palm biodiesel May 2010
- Palm oil pundit speaks May 2010
- What is unrefined, extra virgin cold-pressed avocado oil? April 2010
- The ultra-low-linolenic soybean market April 2010
- Dealing with the media: A cautionary tale March 2010
- Hempseed oil in a nutshell March 2010
- Carbon management 101: A conversation with Eric Jackson February 2010
- Giants of the Past: Hermann Pardun (1908-2009) February 2010
- Q&A with Bill Christie February 2010
- Update on Jatropha January 2010
- Unique properties of carbon dioxide-expanded lipids January 2010
- The market situation and political framework in Germany for biodiesel and vegetable oil December 2009
- Industrial oil crops-when will they finally deliver on their promise ? December 2009
- Chemically enhanced oil recovery stages a comeback November 2009
- Field-portable mass spectrometers for onsite analytics: What's next? October 2009
- To make biofuels, or not to make biofuels:That is the question. September 2009
- Melamine analysis at the forefront September 2009
- Global oil yields: Have we got it seriously wrong? August 2009
- Omega-3 fatty acid profiling and dietary forensics August 2009
- Oilseeds of the future part 3 July 2009
- The rise and fall of surfactants lore July 2009
- Oilseeds of the future: Part 2 June 2009
- Codex Alimentarius Commission update June 2009
- Raw material sources for the long-chain omega-3 market:Trends and sustainability. Part 3. May 2009
- Oilseeds of the future: Part 1 May 2009
- Chloroesters in foods: An emerging issue April 2009
- Raw material sources for the long-chain omega-3 market: Trends and sustainability. Part 2. April 2009
- Synthetic HDL created March 2009
- Raw material sources for the long-chain omega-3 market:Trends and sustainability. Part 1. March 2009
- A convenient way to increase legume intake February 2009
- Vitamin E’s safety controversy January 2009
- Universal mechanism of aging uncovered? January 2009
- The demand for palm oil is expected to increase in the coming years, but the industry is faced with a dilemma—how to meet global requirements without engaging in deforestation and the destruction of peatland to expand the size of oil palm plantations.
- Government and non-profit organizations are united in certifying plantations in the use of sustainable practices to limit detrimental environmental effects of farming this commodity.
- Researchers are also exploring ways to increase the oil yield, squeezing out more of the product from the land that is already under cultivation.
- A myriad of companies have recently formed, specializing in fermentation for bio oil production that replicates the desired characteristics of palm oil to meet industry standards.
Palm oil has become the most common source of oil in food today. Every year, global consumption exceeds 70 million metric tons, and the demand is only expected to rise, due in part to palm oil’s versatility. Food products from ramen to oat milk incorporate palm oil, as do a diverse array of commercial items, like shampoo and lipstick or biodiesel fuel.
The crop is versatile too. Oil palm trees can produce up to 10 times more oil than other vegetable oil crops. Fruit from the oil palm tree can be harvested every 10 to 14 days, with one tree producing 40 kilograms of oil every year, for up to 30 years. Palm oil accounts for 36% of global vegetable oil consumed. Oil palm trees also produce more oil per unit of cultivated land than other vegetable oil crops. In fact, if all vegetable oil provisions were turned over exclusively to palm oil, it would require 76.87 million hectares of land, or about twice the size of California. For this reason, palm oil is one of the fastest- growing sub-sectors of the global agriculture economy.
Originating in West Africa, oil palm trees have been introduced to tropical regions around the world. Today, Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 90% of global palm oil output. This important agricultural crop has had a stabilizing effect on the economy of both countries. In 2020, Sabah, a state on the northern tip of Borneo’s east Malaysia, produced 5 million tons of palm oil, or 6% of the global palm oil production. This impressive output has generated the equivalent of more than $230 million to the country’s economy. Across southeast Asia, 4.5 million people participate in the palm oil economy, lifting them out of poverty and opening access to better housing and education.
The Dark Side Of Palm Oil
To keep up with global demand, tropical rainforests and peatlands are increasingly being cleared for oil production. The economic gains of palm oil come at a steep cost to the environment. Tropical forests and peatlands act like sponges, absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (https://tinyurl.com/ wuumsfh6), 55% of Indonesia’s tropical forests have been lost in the past four decades, while Malaysia has lost nearly 20% of its old-growth forest in the past two decades.
According to Erik Meijaard, conservation science professor at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, United Kingdom, palm oil cultivation has had a profound effect on the entire region (https://tinyurl.com/2u3ezf3t). Beyond driving deforestation, forest clearance reduces soil fertility, water quality in the surrounding fisheries, water regulation and supply, as well as biodiversity. In addition, deforestation leads to an increased human and wildlife conflict.
The slash-and-burn practices that are used to clear forests and peatland release an estimated one billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The escaping carbon contributes to planetary warming. The fires also release thick plumes of pollutant-laced smoke that choke the region. In Indonesia, more than 900,000 people were hospitalized with respiratory problems due to smoke inhalation from the nearby fires in 2019 (https://tinyurl.com/3r2n76zs).
Last fall, during the COP26 climate summit, 100 nations, including Indonesia and Malaysia, signed a pledge to halt deforestation. While palm oil production is responsible for less than 1% of deforestation globally, it is a major contributor to this practice in tropical regions. To address this concern, conservationists have joined forces with local governments, farmers, and corporations, like Ferrero and General Mills.
These groups are eager to slow the rate of deforestation through sustainable farming practices and increased oil yield. New research is also exploring approaches to optimize fermentation processes to generate a bio oil that can replace palm oil and ensure oil is available for consumer goods without the additional environmental harm.
The Path To Sustainablity
Palm oil growers are keen to decouple their production from deforestation and have begun embracing sustainable agricultural practices. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) (https://rspo.org), a non-profit organization that unites stakeholders while setting standards, accreditation, and process requirements to ensure sustainable practices are transparent and effective across the palm oil production chain.
RSPO certification is meant to transform the market for palm oil by decreasing the impact of agricultural practices on the environment and making sustainable palm oil more common and accepted by manufacturers. As of 2014, RSPOcertified growers account for 19% of palm oil production, but the road to certification is uneven.
While large companies may have the resources to obtain RSPO certification, small- and medium-sized growers often struggle to achieve this goal. Non-profits, like Forever Sabah (https://www.foreversabah.org), based in Sabah, Malaysia, are helping small growers adopt better farming practices to improve their readiness for certification. By achieving sustainable certification, small- and medium-sized farmers can improve their productivity and gain access to larger markets for their products.
In addition to the RSPO, the Sabah region of Malaysia has launched the Jurisdictional Certification of Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO). The program, which began in 2015, has a goal of achieving 100% ethical, green-certified palm oil production by 2025. With the JCSPO in hand, Malaysian palm oil producers will be more aligned with RSPO certification, which should accelerate their ability to obtain certification.
In a 2022 Reuter’s article (https://tinyurl.com/bdhtkhcy), Frederick Kugan, the Sabah state forestry department’s chief conservator, noted that 24% of the region’s palm oil is now RPSO-certified. This approach is now being explored in other regions of Malaysia.
These efforts are encouraging, but a 2018 study (https:// www.pnas.org/content/115/1/121) reveals that while deforestation is on the decline, efforts have not been as effective for slowing peatland clearance. In addition, these practices are more commonly adopted by older plantations that lack forest land in which to expand.
Gathering The Last Drop
The demand for palm oil is anticipated to increase 46% beyond current need. In addition to adopting sustainable agricultural practices, researchers are exploring ways to reduce the gap between the actual oil harvested to the potential yield available. They aim to leverage expertise in production, agronomic science and the environment to bring real solutions that could have an impact across many sectors of the palm oil economy.
A 2021 study (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021- 00700-y), published in the journal Nature Sustainability, examined palm oil production on Indonesian oil plantations. The study found current yield is only 62% of the total attainable oil at large plantations and 53% at smaller outlets. To close the gap between what an operation can and does capture, the scientists sought an attainable yield of 70% (an increase of 8% on large plantations and 17% for smaller operations).
The researchers identified different cultivation practices, like weed control, pruning techniques and nutrition application, as initial steps to reach the identified attainable yield. Their work also suggests improved harvest methods could increase yield. The model indicates these efforts would save 2.6 million hectares of forests and peatlands. It would also prevent the release of 732 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the conversion of these ecosystems into plantation.
To actually make this happen and achieve these goals will require education and extension efforts, especially for small plantations. Today, researchers are working with producers, non-government organizations and government officials to fine-tune policy to promote investment in agriculture research that reconciles economic and environmental goals and establishes these management techniques on the ground.
YEAST TO THE RESCUE?
Despite efforts to curb deforestation and improve product yield, sustainable palm oil faces a difficult path forward. Finding an agricultural alternative is also frustrating. Other options, like coconut oil, produce a lower yield with an even greater environmental impact when production is scaled to meet the industry need. Corn and soybean are non-tropical oils options, but these crops require additional processes to meet the yield of palm oil.
Numerous synthetic biology companies are exploring opportunities to manufacture bio oil through fermentation processes similar to brewing beer. Fermentation is a biochemical reaction that has been used for generations to produce everything from yogurt to ethanol. Organisms, like bacteria or yeast, power the process by extracting energy from carbohydrates or other sugars and converting it into the desired byproduct. Bio oil fermentation takes place in large bioreactors. The microorganisms, often yeast, convert agricultural feedstocks into bio oils that have a lipid profile that mimic the characteristics of palm oil without the environmental implications of growing palm trees. Synthetic biology companies are now exploring various approaches to fermentation to produce a bio oil with the right characteristics at the right cost to meet industry needs.
The Many Flavors Of Fermentation
Located in the heart of Manhattan, C16 Biosciences (https:// www.c16bio.com) is optimizing conditions to brew alternative oils, fats and lipids. The company is using genetically-modified strains of yeast to produce a bio oil that is chemically near identical to palm oil. The company has recently received a $20 million Series A round of investment from Breakthrough Energy Ventures. C16 Biosciences first plans to tackle the personal care market with its bio oil product. Clean ingredients are in demand for personal care products and bio oil addresses this need. Personal care products are also a good first step for bio oil production. These products have less stringent regulatory requirements than food products.
Locus Fermentation Solutions (https://locusfs.com), a biotech conglomerate based in Solon, Ohio, USA, is already producing palm-free ingredients using patented production process that leverage bioinformatics and fermentation technology. In their process, microbes are fed renewable raw materials, like canola and corn, to produce sophorolipids, a biosurfactant. Unlike synthetic surfactants, the sophorolipids have a lower toxicity and higher biodegradability.
“We launched Locus Performance Ingredients in July 2020, to replace legacy chemical surfactants used in product formulations with safer, sustainable, low-carbon, high-performance biosurfactants,” said Tim Staub, CEO of Locus Performance Ingredients, a subsidiary located in Bon Air, Virginia, USA. “Our technology and resulting sophorolipids are multifunctional, highly efficacious and USDA BioPreferred certified 100% bio-based.”
Locus Performance Ingredients plans to create a palmfree bio oil that has a zero carbon footprint. The company uses crops grown on established agricultural land for renewable energy in its production process. According to Staub, the company can scale rapidly anywhere in the world where the feedstocks, electricity and water are available.
“Our innovative, very-low-carbon modular fermentation platform allows us to rapidly scale as needed near end-use markets, further reducing the carbon impact of long supply chains,” said Staub. “This allows formulators to simultaneously simplify their formulas and increase the bio-based content and sustainability of their products while improving performance.”
The company has joined into a globally exclusive distribution agreement with Dow Chemical. It is now selling their product in a series of personal care products found in and marketed by multiple consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. They are also exploring collaborations with other applications, from industrial water treatment to textiles pulp and paper production.
Kiverdi, a company in Pleasanton, California, USA (https://www.kiverdi.com) is exploring an alternative to palm oil through a process that directly captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The company is also using directed evolution, which applies stress to yeast colonies to spur them to produce more oil from cheaper feedstocks. According to the company, this approach is advantageous because it will avoid the regulations that govern genetically- modified organisms used by other companies in bio oil production. Kiverdi aims to produce yeast strains that are not only highly productive but also more robust.
The Wisconsin, USA-based company, Xylome (https:// www.xylome.com), has leveraged yeast fermentation to produce the bio oil, ‘Yoil.’ The process uses a genetically- modified strain of yeast, Lipomyces starkeyi, which are fed corn syrup. The process yields bio oil that has the same chemical profile as palm oil.
In a 2022 Fast Company article (https://tinyurl. com/29hyynyj), the company’s CEO, Thomas Kelleher, noted that Yoil can be used as a one-to-one drop-in replacement for palm oil. Yoil has another benefit. Unlike palm oil, Yoil does not require bleaching, which removes chlorinated hydrocarbons from the production process and ultimately the food chain. Xylome is sharing samples of Yoil with companies to see how it stands up to traditional palm oil in products like ice cream. The company is also looking into alternative approaches that use waste feedstock from cornfields to make a similar, but less expensive, bio oil product.
Each company faces the same hurdle—scaling production at a price that is profitable. To accomplish this feat, they are optimizing their processes by improving strains, enhancing fermentation efficiencies, identifying the best, most cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable feedstocks, and obtaining additional byproducts from the fermentation stream to improve profitability.
The future of palm oil lies at the intersection of sustainability, agronomic management improvements, and laboratory processes innovations. As more corporations require certification, governments and growers will be motivated to adopt sustainable management practices. Such practices could fold in new research to improve yield and address the immediate need for oil without converting more land for cultivation. Finally, biotechnological advances will improve bio oil characteristics in a cost-effective process that can scale production to augment—if not replace—the demand for palm oil in food and commercial products. The end results may soon be on your supermarket shelves. Stay tuned.
About the Author
Rebecca Guenard is the associate editor of Inform at AOCS. She can be contacted at email@example.com