With USD120 million (about EUR114.3 million) jointly invested in the newly-formed initiative, and with other strategic investors expected to join, the venture aims to develop a plant-based alternative to palm oil using biotechnology to be used for cleaning and personal care products. According to the duo behind the initiative, there are currently few viable alternatives to palm and fossil sources that can be produced at scale in order to make those ingredients.

Innovative biotech processes

Geno’s research and development team has deployed more than USD 300 million in technology investment to create a portfolio of 2,200 patents and applications covering product pathways, synthetic biology approaches to engineering microorganisms, processes to bio-manufacture products, their sometimes unique biological compositions, and product applications.

Our technology enables pathways for alternative sourcing of materials whose supply chains often have limited social and environmental transparency, by offering more resilient supply chains that are transparent, traceable and responsibly-sourced, as demanded by consumers. Beyond creating new transparent and responsibly sourced-supply chains and alternatively-sourced materials, our Geno technology also represents the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 million tons in upcoming years,” said Christophe Schilling, Geno CEO.

Geno will deploy its biotechnology platform and is already starting to scale the process for its advanced technology to produce the ingredients. Initial estimates have shown that companies could reduce the carbon footprint of palm-derived ingredients by up to 50% with this technology-driven, plant-based alternative.

Preparing the post palm-oil era

Companies like Unilever, whose products are used globally by 3.4 billion people each day, are increasingly partnering with biotechnology innovators to explore, develop, and manufacture new versions of traditionally-sourced ingredients.While palm oil will remain an important feedstock to Unilever, these alternative ingredients can play a growing role in diversifying supply chains to drive optionality, sustainability, cost efficiencies and transparency,” said the company in a statement.

For Unilever, one of the world’s biggest soap and detergent manufacturers, this is the largest investment in biotechnology alternatives to palm oil to date. As such, the venture offers the opportunity to tap into the combined USD 625 billion home and personal care markets.

During the recent months, palm oil - as many other vegetal oils - has been recording price hikes at an all-time high. In a context of increased uncertainty on supply chains, it is strategic for major users to diversify their sources of such key materials.

Biotechnology has the potential to revolutionise the sourcing of our cleansing ingredients and ensure Unilever is a future-fit business – for consumers, shareholders and the planet we all share. This new venture will sit at the intersection of science and sustainability, meaning we can continue to grow our business without relying only on palm oil or fossil fuel derivatives, while also making our supply chains more resilient from having access to ingredient alternatives. We will be marrying science and nature to make sure there is no tradeoff for our consumers between the efficacy and sustainability of their products. We are building this innovative new venture to have the scale to drive real impact and change in our industry, helping to reinvent the chemistry of home and personal care products for the 21st Century,” said Unilever’s Chief R&D Officer Richard Slater.