The Circe system uses microbes to convert greenhouse gases into useable fats via gas fermentation. This process can minimize the carbon footprint of food production, and also has potential use in personal care and packaging products. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
Human society relies on an inefficient, carbon-intensive linear manufacturing process in which products are created, used, and discarded. This system produces large amounts of waste at every step that is not captured and reused, causing a significant loss of value and damage to the environment.
Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and requires complex global supply chains to grow, manufacture, and transport food ingredients to consumers. The adoption of a more plant-based diet and more sustainable farming practices is beginning to occur, but as the planet’s climate continues to change, our ability to produce enough food to feed humanity is becoming more fraught and requires innovative approaches that can be applied at a large scale.
The Circe Project is addressing this problem by using engineered microbes to produce tailored fats without the use of plants or animals that can be incorporated into food products. Circe’s proprietary microbes use the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) to produce a wide range of fats via gas fermentation.
Circe’s technology offers the potential to manufacture different kinds of fats at locations that are independent of where those fats are naturally found (e.g., producing cocoa butter outside of tropical regions where cacao trees grow; supplying milkfat without factory farming dairy cows) with minimal land use. This system can dramatically reduce the food industry’s carbon footprint and convert industrial waste products into valuable commodities, creating a circular manufacturing economy.
Circe’s customized microbes can produce different types and combinations of lipid molecules that replicate the flavor, texture, and nutritional profiles of naturally occurring fats. This enables the production of dairy-free milk products and animal-free meat products that look, taste, and feel authentic, encouraging broader adoption of foods with a lower environmental impact.
The Wyss Institute is de-risking this technology and is seeking strategic partnerships with companies and individuals who are interested in assisting with its development and commercialization.