The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pumping $3.5 million into C16 Biosciences, the Y Combinator-backed company fermenting alternatives to the environmentally destructive palm oil business. The Gates grant comes alongside a $1 million check from Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit accelerator that backs climate tech “with deep community impact.”
You can find palm oil pretty much everywhere — in soaps and biofuels as well as chocolates and instant ramen. While the industry’s given itself something of a makeover lately, deforestation linked to palm oil production is once again on the rise.
Using yeast and agriculturally derived feedstocks, C16 already brews an alternative to the seed oil for use in beauty products, under the name Palmless.
With the new funds, the startup will develop new oil recipes for use in food, utilizing both “waste stream feedstocks and non-agriculturally derived feedstocks,” C16 co-founder and CEO Shara Ticku told TechCrunch. “To expand on the latter,” the co-founder added in an intriguing hypothetical, “this may include utilizing feedstocks derived directly from carbon capture.”
Deforestation is a climate problem. A 2020 study found that climate pollution from palm oil plantations alone equate to about half that of the whole aviation industry. More broadly, deforestation is responsible for nearly a third of all carbon dioxide emissions since 1850, according to MIT ecologist Jerry Melillo.
In addition to the Gates Foundation and Elemental, C16’s previous investors include Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy and DCVC. C16 tells TechCrunch that it’s raised $36.3 million in equity funding to date, as well as $2 million in grant funding via the Department of Energy and Agile BioFoundry.