NoPalm Ingredients: A sustainable and circular alternative to palm oil

Published on
March 21, 2023

Potato peelings, sugar beet waste, brewer grain, and rejected vegetables. Some companies may see them as waste, but to the NoPalm Ingredients company, located at Business & Science Park Wageningen, these are raw materials for producing oils and fats. CEO Lars Langhout: “We can use any organic substance, as long as they contain sugar, organic acids, and alcohols. With our technology, we can ferment waste streams into, for example, oil that can be used again in a variety of products: from biscuits and spreads to shampoo and toothpaste. And in doing so, we have developed a sustainable alternative to palm oil. With 90% less CO2 emissions, 99% less land use and therefore no degradation of biodiversity."

“By using yeasts, we ferment residual streams into oils and fats that can replace palm oil in food and cosmetics, for example. The technology we have developed for this purpose has a wide range of applications and offers many possibilities. That is also what makes it innovative. There are other companies making oils and fats to replace palm oil, but as far as I know, we are the only ones using the fermentation of residual streams to do so. There is a lot of interest in this process both in the Netherlands and internationally.”

How did NoPalm Ingredients come into being?

I studied international business administration and after working as a strategy consultant at several food companies as clients, I wanted more than just a commercial challenge. I wanted to do something that had real impact. I came into contact with Jeroen Hugenholtz, who had a lot of experience in the fermentation of residual streams at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (WUR). But this technology had not yet proven itself on a large scale. We were inspired to start a business together. We were able to demonstrate the desired scale with NoPalm Ingredients within a year. We also really believe in the impact of this technology. Imagine a world where residual streams are no longer seen as waste, and the valorisation of residual streams is common practice. Using an external Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), we proved that compared to palm oil, our technology leads to a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 99% reduction in land use.

What are some recent successes that you look back on fondly?

The past year has been a rollercoaster. I’m proud of the fact that within a year, we reached a point where we can ferment 2,000 litres of biomass. That is fast; many startups take 5-7 years to scale up. But I’m most proud of our team of now 15 people, many with a research & development (R&D) background. Many of them are WUR alumni and focus on research. Of course, we also have people in support and commercial roles to help us make the link with the market. Our first pilot with Colgate Palmolive, which we recently launched, is also a milestone. In this pilot, we will explore how to convert Colgate’s residual streams into oils and fats for their products.

In the beginning, we received support from a WUR operator who helped us with our first trials. We also make use of Jeroen Hugenholtz’ huge network at WUR. Of course, we are hitching a ride on Wageningen’s good reputation in the world. If I attend a congress abroad and I tell them we are in Wageningen, it opens doors. Wageningen is as well-known as Amsterdam in this respect. It’s also clear that WUR is really seen as the Champions League in R&D in the field of nutrition. In addition to our own WUR alumni, we also spoke to WUR students, for example during Career Day. They too already possess a high level of knowledge. And there’s also the beautiful and inspiring campus.

We have the luxury of customers queuing up to work with us. Many companies are looking for alternatives to palm oil. to maximise value from their chain while also reducing their CO2 footprint.
Lars Langhout, NoPalm Ingredients

What can you add to the campus ecosystem, or vice versa?

I strongly believe in ecosystems. Various players on campus help us, and we help them. We are in a region with a lot of knowledge holders and innovative power, interesting startups, employers for talent (and not just young talent). What could be better than sharing this existing knowledge and expertise? The Netherlands, the province of Gelderland, and Wageningen must become aware of the innovative potential available to them in the field of Agri and Food. With such potential, surely at least one company with Wageningen roots should be in the top three innovative companies in every niche in the food sector!

I think that fewer potentially successful startups come to fruition in Wageningen than could be the case. As an ecosystem or government, you can choose to offer more support to startups with impact. Not necessarily through funding, but by helping them – even more than now – to turn their proof of concept into a commercial success. This can be done by providing guarantees or bringing the right parties together. As it stands, start-ups depend on investors who want to minimise risk, and therefore often have high expectations with hard-to-achieve requirements. Surely WUR’s top position in the field of Food and R&D should bring forth startups that are a commercial success and can have an impact?

What developments do you see in the future for your business?

The next step for us is an in-house R&D pilot hub with 5,000 litres of biomass fermentation capacity. And we want to see if we can get even more out of valorising side streams. We make the product based on the customer’s individual requirements. So we have to do new research for each customer, and now also with larger quantities. So for that, we are looking for a bigger R&D facility somewhere around here. In doing so, we must also focus on growing our team and financing all our plans.

In the long term, we will focus on a so-called co-location at the customer. Our wish is to have fermentation plants (hopefully worldwide) at the Agri-Food companies themselves. That way we can process residual and side streams on site for the customer, who can reuse them in their own production process or resell them. This means no transport costs, and the lowest risk of contamination.

We have the luxury of customers queuing up to work with us. Many companies are looking for alternatives to palm oil. They want to extract as much value as possible from their supply chain and reduce their CO2 footprint. This makes our product a very attractive alternative.

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