Novo Nordisk Foundation: €27m invested into creating protein source from CO2

June 20, 2023

A new consortium comprising Novo Nordisk Foundation, companies and university researchers, and funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is to be set up with the aim of creating a sustainable source of proteins for human food derived from CO2

According to a statement by Novo Nordisk Foundation, the aim is to help fight the rising global problems with food insecurity and greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture. Researchers have found a way to make protein acetate, with the basic idea being to provide a more sustainable way of producing proteins through fermentation – “a way of producing food we have been using for millennia”.

It is hoped that using this process, we will reduce the need for meat and dairy production. In addition, using acetate derived from CO2 directly in the fermentation process will eliminate the need to use sugar, which is a big part of fermentation processes. This will free up substantial agricultural areas currently used for sugar production.

Therefore, converting CO2 into acetate and using it to produce proteins for food will enable us to decouple part of our food production from land use and make room for biodiversity. This will be a major contribution to a more sustainable society, the press release said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Novo Nordisk Foundation are funding the consortium to the tune of DKK 200 million (€27 million).

Novo Nordisk Foundation: €27m invested into creating protein source from CO2

The consortium combines knowledge and expertise from Novozymes A/S and Topsoe A/S, two leading companies within biotechnology and chemical engineering, respectively, Washington University in St. Louis in the US and the Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center (CORC) at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation, commented: “By utilising CO2 for food production without involving agricultural land use, this ambitious consortium addresses two of our biggest global challenges: supplying nutritious food to a growing world population and mitigation of climate change. This has the potential to be the first step towards a novel bioeconomy providing a more sustainable, safe and stable food production, reducing the strain on nature’s resources in multiple ways.”

Making use of existing production facilities

The first step for the consortium is to optimise and evaluate three potential production technologies and mature them. The goal is to lift all technologies to demonstration scale (TRL 6 or above) within two years.

The consortium partners have several relevant production technologies and facilities at their disposal, which enables them to take advantage of already existing infrastructure to verify and scale the new developments expected from the collaboration. This is a great opportunity to create synergy across the different technologies involved in the collaboration and makes it possible to speed up the upscaling process significantly.

Claus Crone Fuglsang, Chief Science Officer in Novozymes A/S, added: “The possibility to engineer biology to efficiently produce protein for human nutrition from simple raw materials has been around for some time. With this programme, there is a possibility to develop a completely climate-neutral way of transforming CO2 into protein without the use of land, water, and fertiliser. I am excited and proud that we can contribute with technology and knowhow that makes this transformation possible – it holds tremendous potential for having biosolutions solve major world problems.”

Beneficial for low- and middle-income countries

Once scaled up to production, the technologies developed by the consortium could represent a paradigm shift in our approach to food security, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries, Novo Nordisk said. The technologies are estimated to be able to produce enough protein for more than 1 billion people every year, creating a stable source of nutritious food for people living in areas with limited potential for conventional agriculture.

Concludes Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen: “The technologies offer a big potential to provide food security globally, especially in low- and middle- income countries. It is therefore very important that the technologies can be implemented in areas of the world where they can benefit the most at a fair cost. This is ensured with the setup of this consortium.” .

Funding and consortium partners

The two foundations are each funding half of the activities in the consortium.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding activities at:

  • Novozymes A/S – a global leader in biosolutions.
  • Washington University in St. Louis

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is funding activities at:

  • Topsoe A/S – a global leader in carbon emission reduction technologies
  • The Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center (CORC) at Aarhus University

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