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What are the alternatives to Palm Oil?

Rising production of palm oil will come at a cost. Palm oil can only be grown in tropical equatorial regions where rainforest and carbon rich peatlands are located. If current trends continue it is estimated that Indonesia’s remaining rainforests will almost entirely disappear by 2024 (Rainforest Rescue). This is the last place in the world where orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers amongst a range of unique plants and animals live freely together and they will not be able to survive if their home is destroyed.

With global population and public awareness of the damaging effects of non sustainable palm oil both on the rise, a swap to sustainable alternatives is crucial. Viable replacements for palm oil are now desperately needed, and extensive research is taking place in an attempt to find alternatives.

Rising rates of consumptions is likely to spike increases in palm oil production rates and if current trends continue, recent reports have estimated that humans will need about 85 million metric tonnes of palm oil per year in order to sustain the population by 2024 (Global Industry Analysis). Can the planet cope with the rising demand for palm oil? If not, what are the alternatives?

Although it is argued that other shifting from palm oil to other forms of vegetable oil would still have major repercussions on biodiversity and ecosystems, diversification of oil supply away from highly biodiverse areas may be part of the solution as well as tightening current standards for palm oil production and investment into alternatives.  

Sustainable Palm oil

Palm oil's dramatic growth has occurred due it’s efficiency in contrast to other vegetable oils. While one hectare of land can produce just 0.38 tons of soybean oil, 0.48 tons of sunflower oil, and 0.67 tons of rapeseed oil, that same hectare can produce more than 3.7 tons of palm oil (ATKearny) per year. Its high yield and low land requirements make it the least expensive vegetable oil in the market. It is economically versatile which makes it immensely popular and it’s easily used in a vast range of products. Put simply, palm oil is cheap to produce in large quantities.

However, further work needs to be done to ensure strict social and environmental standards at all stages of palm oil agriculture and processing to ensure palm oil companies continue to grow without harming rainforests or the communities that depends on them.

Revive Eco is a organisation that creates a palm oil alternative out of used coffee grounds. It is estimated that globally 6 million tonnes of this coffee waste goes to land fill. When founders of Revive Eco Fergus Moore and Scott Kennedy saw this they decided they wanted end this excessive amount of waste. They say their oil is environmentally friendly and has potential applications in food, drinks, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Find out more here. You can also listen to our podcast with Fergus Moore here.

Used Coffee Grounds

Locally Grown oils

Pressures on Indonesia and Malaysia the larger palm oil producing countries to supply huge quantities of palm oil could be greatly reduced if locally sourced oils were used to create different food or household products.

This is move is now happening the EU where locally grown crops such as rapeseed, sunflower, or flax is utilized to reduce pressures on equatorial regions to produce such huge quantities of palm oil.

So what is being done? Well Exxon Mobile and Synthetic Genomics, have teamed together in an attempt to cultivate algae, as it’s believed this plant could be transformed into biofuel. At present palm oil is frequently used in biodiesel, and a significant amount of the resource goes to this industry. Cultivating algae could be the silver bullet, as Exxonmobile believe 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel could potentially be produced per day by 2025.

Algae Alternative to Palm Oil

Elsewhere the young biotech company CarboCycle are conducting innovative research, which involves using the lipids of fungi in an extraction process. Once cultivated these lipids can be used to create oil, which is similar to palm oil. The process takes up little space and the oil can be made in just 2 to 4 days. CarboCycle believe not enough waste is being reused and their idea is to transform 100% of the global organic waste into oil, as this will ‘close the carbon loop ’ by ending the need for further land exploitation and deforestation.

Fungi Alternative to Palm Oil

In the UK, scientists are conducting similar research. At Bath University a specific form of yeast is being harnessed in an attempt to retrieve its oil content. Metschnikowia pulcherrima as it’s called is yeast derived from a feedstock, and scientists believe this could theoretically replace palm oil as a sustainable oil resource. It’s thought that this would use 10 to 100 times less land than palm oil, and if it’s truly a viable option, it can’t come soon enough.

Yeast Alternative to Palm Oil

What was used before Palm Oil?

Palm oil has a high melting point and is semi-solid at room temperature. The versatility extends its use a product from baking products and spreads to frying and for use in personal care and cleaning products. Though animal fats which was used previously also have this quality, they are far more expensive to produce and also comes with its own ethical issues.