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This EU Startup is Making Locally Produced Palm Oil Substitute From Corn Waste

Palm oil is one of the most widely used edible oils in the world. However, this popularity comes with outsized ecological consequences including deforestation and long-distance supply chains.

In response, EU-based research consortium NextVegOil is working to develop a commercial-scale method for producing a microbial oil similar to palm oil from agricultural waste by applying fermentation to corn stover. More specifically, Ustilago maydis - a harmless fungus that is the cause of “corn smut” - a fungal growth on corn crops that otherwise could not be used cost-efficiently as a food product or a raw material for industry.

Funded by the Bioeconomy Science Center (BioSC), the project involves two research teams from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) in partnership with a startup based in Berlin and Bonn. The ultimate goal is to produce a plant-based cheese based on the oil which has a similar composition of fatty acids to palm oil.

Over the course of the next few years, the teams stated that they will work to optimize the fungus so that the oil produced matches the properties of palm oil even more closely by ensuring the optimum conversion of corn stover raw materials during the fermentation process.

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