Precision Fermentation And The Role It Could Play in Reducing Carbon Emissions

by Ben Williams

Fermentation is nothing new. For millennia, brewers and wine-makers have harnessed microorganisms to convert sugars into alcohol. What started out as a craft honed over a lifetime of experience is now a scientific industry that forms the backbone of many high-value products. Insulin, industrial enzymes for food manufacturing, flavourings such as vanilla [1]; these are all made using microorganisms to produce an exact, desired product by encoding its chemical signature into their DNA. This is precision fermentation (PF).

While PF has been previously limited to enzymes and pharmaceuticals, a community of companies and researchers is now developing processes to embed PF in everyday products. Most high profile is Perfect Day, who produce milk proteins identical to those in cow’s milk with a reduction of up to 97% in CO2 emissions [2]. Others are working on PF surfactants, coffee and meat proteins.

What are the benefits?

Precision fermentation offers the possibility of a significant reduction in the land, energy, blue water and carbon required to produce our everyday essentials. In the last 20 years, the cost of sequencing and synthesising DNA has fallen exponentially. As a result, microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria can be tailored for highly efficient conversion of feedstocks into useful products, even working on waste material such as crop residues and promoting a more circular food system. Reduced land requirements in particular open the door to rewilding at a scale that would otherwise not be possible.

What are the challenges?

The infrastructure required for fermentation (e.g. large-scale bioreactors) is expensive to buy and to tune to the right process conditions, while also being notoriously difficult to access for testing. Added to the inherent complexity of biology and regulatory challenges with novel or GMO foods, this means that PF is difficult to scale and has not yet reached a competitive price-point for any low-cost ingredients (such as milk). The industry is expected to double in size roughly every 2 years [3] and these challenges are being tackled head-on.

About the author:

I’m a co-founder of Sun Bear Bioworks, a UK-based start-up developing a PF alternative to palm oil for use as a drop-in substitute in food, cosmetics and biofuels. Palm oil is an amazing material and a high-yielding crop. With a unique fatty acid composition, it is tasteless, odourless and melts in the mouth. As a result, it is used in 50% of supermarket products. However, it can only be grown in the tropics and demand is expected to increase by 40% by 2030 [4], exacerbating issues of deforestation and peatland loss. We estimate saving 80% of CO2 and land via our fermentation process – watch this space.


[1] Baeshen, N. et al., “Cell factories for insulin production” (2014)
[2] Perfect Day, (2023)
[3] Polaris Market Research, “Global Precision Fermentation Market Size Report, 2022 – 2030” (2022)
[4] Grand View Research, “Palm Oil Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report, 2030” (2022)
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