Bill Gates is coming after animal fats

19 February 2024
Beyond Meat's share price has collapsed due to concerns about the taste of its plant-based meat - but Bill Gates isn't dissuaded. He thinks Savor's technology could be the next tasty solution to finding a cheeseburger that isn't a disaster for the planet. Pic: Supplied
An article by  Jackson Hewett

Bill Gates, billionaire founder of Microsoft, and dedicated environmental philanthropist is hoping his bets on synthetic fats and oils will help drive alternative proteins and reduce emissions.

According to his most recent Gates Notes newsletter titled Greasy and good for the planet, Mr Gates has singled out two investments – animal fat replacement Savor and palm oil alternative C16 – that he hopes will reduce the estimated 3.9 gigatonnes of emissions associated with foods.

In his opening line, Mr Gates highlights his love of cheeseburgers, but laments the failure of alternative protein products to replicate the taste experience.

“Even when the taste is close, there’s still something missing: the greasy, oily sizzle that brings the ideal sandwich together and makes it so delicious—and difficult to replicate,” he writes.

“The secret ingredient is animal fat. It’s what gives so many foods their richness, juiciness, meltability, unique 'mouthfeel', and overall flavor.”

Gates calls the 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions generated by the production of animal fats and oils a “disaster for the planet” writing that emissions from the sector need to be driven to zero.

“Our plan can’t be to simply hope that people give up foods they crave. After all, humans are wired to want animal fats for a reason—because they’re the most nutrient-rich and calorie-dense macronutrient—in the same way we’re wired to crave sugar for an instant energy kick. What we need are new ways of generating the same fat molecules found in animal products, but without greenhouse gas emissions, animal suffering, or dangerous chemicals. And they have to be affordable for everyone,” he writes.

Mr Gates believes that one of his investments – Savor – is close to recreating the taste sensation linked to animal fats.

Savor’s technology is based on the fact that all fats are comprised of chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms, and the company has developed a process that involves taking carbon dioxide from the air and hydrogen from water and oxidizing them to trigger the separation of fatty acids and then the formulation of fat.

“The result is real fat molecules like the ones we get from milk, cheese, beef, and vegetable oils. The process doesn’t release any greenhouse gases, and it uses no farmland and less than a thousandth of the water that traditional agriculture does,” Mr Gates writes.

“And most important, it tastes really good—like the real thing, because chemically it is. I’ve tasted Savor’s products, and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t eating real butter. (The burger came close, too.)”



Mr Gates writes that the next step is getting the cost of production down to the same level of animal fat production and he believes that point is not far away, with key steps of Savor’s fat-production process already being used in other industries.

“The focus on animal fats is a priority because they have an outsized impact on climate—and play an outsized role in many beloved foods.”

The Gates missive comes as so-called alternative meats have struggled to fulfil the initial promise of investors.

A total of $US2.9 billion ($A4.41bn) was invested in alternative proteins globally in 2022, according to the Good Food Institute, with $US14.2bn invested over the last decade.

However, the investment required continues to be significant, while consumer interest has not grown in tandem. The poster child for the sector, Beyond Meat, which soared to a valuation of $US234 per share in 2019, has collapsed to just $7 today – a fall of 97%. The company disclosed to the market last year that revenue had declined by 31% year-on-year. According to Wired magazine, the most pressing issue for the sector is not getting people to try the product, it’s maintaining them as repeat customers. The article found that consumers were open to considering alternative proteins, but so far the taste had not been satisfactory.

It appears that Mr Gates is funding a solution to that problem.

Palm oil alternatives are another investment focus, with Mr Gates citing the statistic that palm oil is the most widely used plant-based fat in the world that is found in half of all packaged foods. Only able to be grown close to the equator, it has led to slash-and-burn deforestation of rainforest across the world.

“This process has been bad for biodiversity, putting entire ecosystems at risk. It’s also a one-two punch for climate change: The combustion involved in burning forests emits tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and as the wetlands they sit on are destroyed, the carbon they’ve been storing gets released too. In 2018, the devastation in Malaysia and Indonesia alone was bad enough to account for 1.4 percent of global emissions—more than the entire state of California and nearly as much as the aviation industry worldwide,” he writes.

That is why Mr Gates invested in C16, which grows a similar oil to palm oil using a wild yeast microbe to grow on fungi. The product is grown in a lab in Midtown Manhattan.

“The idea of switching to lab-made fats and oils may seem strange at first. But their potential to significantly reduce our carbon footprint is immense,” Mr Gates writes.

“By harnessing proven technologies and processes, we get one step closer to achieving our climate goals.”


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