About NoPalm Ingredients
- Founders: Lars Langhout and Jeroen Hugenholtz
- Founded in: 2021 in Ede, the Netherlands
- Employees: 7
- Money raised: 1 million euros, plus a grant of 500,000 euros
- Ultimate goal: That no forests anywhere in the world continue to be burned down for palm oil plantations
The tropical rainforest is home to many animals, such as the elephant, tiger and orangutan. Yet every second, the Dutch environmental organization Milieudefensie has calculated that approximately 169 trees are cut down in tropical forests. Also, more than one billion people depend on rainforests. Some for their daily food and drink, while others for shelter or small businesses such as farmers who manage tracts of forest. The tropical forests are also known as ‘the lungs of the earth‘. They absorb CO2 , which helps against climate change, and release the oxygen that we breathe. As such, the felling of these forests has major repercussions for people, animals and the climate.
A lot of the trees that are cut down are being felled to make way for oil plantations. Palm oil in particular is a commonly grown product. Palm oil is processed in many of the products we use, e.g., pizza, cookies, shampoo, but also cleaning products. This has to be done differently, says co-founder Lars Langhout of NoPalm Ingredients. Together with colleague Jeroen Hugenholtz, he has developed a local, sustainable alternative to palm oil, made from products such as potato peels or sugar beet. Langhout tells us more about it in this instalment of start-up of the day.
How is your alternative to palm oil produced?
“We are developing sustainable palm oil by converting local residual streams into oil. These include, for example, rejected vegetables, potato peels or sugar beets that are fermented with oleaginous yeasts. We give these by-products a second life. Normally, they are used as animal feed, incinerated or thrown away. It is not an unhealthy choice to use these leftovers, because the yeasts use the sugars, fatty acids or alcohols in the residual waste stream and convert them into oil or fat. The biomass that is left over is also used further by other companies. So, only pure oil is extracted. You can compare it to a beer brewing process or a winemaking process, except that it uses a different type of yeast. In beer or wine production, the yeast is converted into alcohol, while in our case it is converted into oil. We can replace a lot of different components of palm oil this way.”
What is particularly innovative about your technique?
“There are more companies developing alternatives to palm oil by means of fermentation, but we are the only company in the world that does it with waste streams. Other parties are doing it with sugar that is grown separately. That testifies to a lack of sustainability.”
What are the challenges in making this oil?
“Scaling up is a pretty tricky thing to do. We have made great strides in a short time thanks to Jeroen’s background in fermentation. We only started doing this last January and are already going to start fermenting on a 2,000-liter scale this coming September. Nevertheless, this is not nearly enough given that palm oil is basically processed in some 60 to 70 percent of the products sold in supermarkets. It is not always so obvious, because it is sometimes listed on packaging under obscure ingredient names, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. That is a product derived from palm oil, and there are other names like that one. We have not personally approached any party in the past few months to work together, instead, they have approached us. A lot of companies are looking for a sustainable type of fat for things like meat substitutes, dairy substitutes, animal feed and cosmetics.”
What makes your product so sought after?
“Lots of companies are looking for sustainable alternatives, because sustainability is gaining more and more public attention. At the same time, the average price for palm oil is rising and this makes it interesting for companies to look for an alternative. The war in Ukraine and an export ban in Indonesia are affecting the price, but the closing of borders due to COVID also has a negative impact on the production and export of palm oil. Having a local alternative to oil means you don’t have any export problems and so it stays easy and cheaper to source oil.”
From when is your oil on the market?
“At the moment, there are no products with our oil available in stores yet because we are still in the process of scaling up our technology, continuing to develop and research it and, of course, building up client relationships. The oil already exists; we are running pilots with a few companies that use it in their products, but it is not being sold just yet. We are expecting that products with our oil will be found in stores from 2025 onwards. We also want to include a reference on the packaging so that it is clear at a glance that local, sustainable oil has been used in the product.”