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    Unilever to promote biotech alternative to palm oil and fossil fuels

    A worker unloads palm oil fruit bunches from a lorry inside a palm oil mill in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin/File Photo

    Unilever and Genomatica (Geno), San Diego-based biotechnology specialists, have launched a venture to scale and commercialise alternatives to palm oil and fossil fuel-derived cleansing ingredients.

    Unilever and Geno will jointly invest $120m (£98m) in the newly-formed initiative, and the companies added that other strategic investors are expected to join the venture which will develop an alternative, plant-based ingredient using biotechnology.

    The innovation is particularly relevant to cleaning and personal care products that require ingredients to lather and lift dirt. But at present, there are few viable alternatives to palm and fossil sources that can be produced at scale in order to make those ingredients.

    The venture is poised to offer a highly effective and sustainable alternative that can be offered to the combined $625 billion home and personal care markets.

    Unilever’s investment, which is the first to support the venture, also marks its, one of the world’s biggest soap and detergent manufacturers, largest collaboration in biotechnology alternatives to palm oil to date.

    “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,” Richard Slater, Unilever’s chief R&D officer, said.

    “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.”

    Christophe Schilling, Geno chief executive, added: “Geno’s collaboration with Unilever builds upon its strong track record of partnering with market leaders who are committed to accelerating the commercialisation of sustainable materials in their industries – from clothing to now cleaning ingredients.

    “We’ve developed our technology in response to our planet’s urgent climate crisis and we’ve proven that biotechnology can replace traditional production methods to produce ingredients with bio-based sources that deliver both high-performance and sustainability, at scale.”

    Using cutting-edge biotechnology, Geno has established a fermentation process that uses sugar to convert microorganisms into an ingredient needed to make key cleaning agents called surfactants. These are integral to all cleansing products – across the home, personal care and beauty industries – to help them foam, lather, and lift dirt.

    Geno said its technology has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 million tons in upcoming years.

    In December last year, Unilever has launched a new hand dishwash product made with naturally derived ingredients, which uses an alternative to surfactants developed by its R&D teams.

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