From its base in New South Wales’ agriculturally rich Central West region, Australian start-up Cauldron says its recent $10.5 million raise will go towards building Asia-Pacific’s largest network of precision fermentation facilities.
Founded by Michele Stansfield, the oversubscribed funding round received local and global investment including Main Sequence and Horizon Ventures. It was also one of the largest seed rounds for a female founded start-up.
Cauldron said it uses a “revolutionary hyper-fermentation platform that will unlock the production of new forms of food, feed and fibre, and unlock a $700 billion global industry opportunity”.
The company claims its unique continuous fermentation process/hyper-fermentation platform “radically lowers commercial risk, producing ingredients five times more efficiently, with a five times reduction in cost” compared to conventional methods.
While fermentation has been used for thousands of years to brew beer and culture cheese, it can take months or years to perfect. Precision fermentation “hypercharges” that process, creating the optimal conditions for microorganisms and bacteria to create new proteins, fats, fuels and more, the company said.
Cauldron CEO and founder Stansfield said, “Humanity has spent thousands of years getting fermentation to work. With Cauldron’s revolutionary fermaculture platform, we are supercharging that process and unlocking the next evolution of how we produce food, feed, and fibre globally.
Horizons Ventures’ Chris Liu said, “We believe Australia has the unique advantages and natural resources to become a world leader in the age of bio-based manufacturing.
“Cauldron’s hyper-fermentation platform provides a supercharger in the quest for scalable precision fermentation without sacrificing cost and efficiency, particularly due to its easy access to abundant local feedstock supply alongside a carbon neutral production process.”
Stansfield added, “Our technology, 35 years of expertise, combined with Australia’s unique infrastructure and abundance of natural resources, will help ensure companies in this space can get new products and ingredients to market quickly, at lower cost and risk.”
Cauldron’s hyper-fermentation platform is a breakthrough for the growing industry, helping precision fermentation companies scale and commercialise new products faster at a much lower risk.
The company said it would expand its existing pilot facility in Orange, New South Wales and start building a network of precision fermentation facilities around regional Australia that tap into the country’s agricultural know-how and feedstock while diversifying and creating new local jobs.
In January, the Queensland government announced funding for Cauldron to conduct a feasibility study of bringing a world-leading Future Foods BioHub to Mackay in northern Queensland.
Stansfield said that the combination of local and global investors with its strong team at the helm meant Cauldron had the resources and experience needed to scale initial production facilities and prove the feasibility of other hubs around Australia.
Cauldron co-founder and CFO David Kestenbaum was formerly general partner at ZX Ventures (the CVC arm of AB InBev), where he led all of its investments in biotech and alternative protein.
While precision fermentation has been used to create many vitamins and enzymes in food products, and guaranteed a supply of medications like insulin, manufacturing at commercial scale has slowed the industry’s growth dramatically. Issues of commercial scale, time, capital investment, and high production costs have stymied the sector’s capabilities.
Main Sequence partner Phil Morle said, “If Australia doesn’t tackle this opportunity, others will. Precision fermentation is already a crucial part of medicines like insulin and many animal feeds but is often done at smaller scale and overseas.
“Cauldron will serve as a regional powerhouse for production to ensure Australia plays a part in the future of agriculture and other industries.”
CSIRO predicts it will become a $700 billion industry by 2040, but issues of commercial scale, time, capital investment, and high production costs have been major hurdles.
Australian biotech company Loam Bio is using Cauldron’s network to accelerate the production of the microbial technology needed to capture carbon and store it long-term.
And ULUU, the Australian company creating a revolutionary natural replacement for plastics, is working with Cauldron to scale up production to help get its first products to market faster and replace plastics across a variety of uses.
Other Australian businesses specialising in precision fermentation:
- ULUU – Perth-based, creating biomaterials out of seaweed to replace plastic;
- Eden Brew – CSIRO-backed start-up, brewing proteins in a lab to create dairy-free milk which has the same taste and nutritional benefits as traditional milk (just without the cows);
- Loam Bio – biotech company producing the microbial technology needed to capture carbon and store it long-term;
- All G Foods – combining precision fermentation and cutting-edge technology to produce animal-dairy and other proteins for use and application in everyday consumer products; and
- Nourish Ingredients – developing sustainable, animal-free fats without sacrificing taste for a growing market of alternative protein food brands.
Precision Fermentation 101 (Source: Cauldron)
A field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.
Precision fermentation technology
A form of synthetic biology that has been around for several decades. The technology uses genetically engineered yeasts and other microorganisms to custom-make a wide range of molecules.
How does precision fermentation work?
It typically requires the use of genetically engineered microorganisms, which are cultivated in brewery-style fermentation tanks.
Think of the microorganism as a little critter that’s been programmed through a range of in-vitro nucleic acid techniques. These little critters “eat” one material, and “excrete” a different material – usually edible fats or proteins that are biologically similar to animal products.
The most common types of microorganisms used in precision fermentation include yeast, algae, and bacteria.
Precision fermentation is designed to develop new ingredients (i.e., proteins, fats, and fibres) which can then be used to create animal-free milk, or plant-based meats, for example.
Why is the industry taking off now?
While precision fermentation has been around for a while, mostly used in the medical industry (i.e., the development of life-saving medications such as insulin) it’s a relatively new food technology that’s entering the mainstream.
Start-ups and established companies alike are looking for ways to harness the technology and bring new products to the market, from pharmaceuticals and food through to new materials such as compostable plastics.
These products are often sustainable, climate-friendly alternatives that buck the system and promise a better tomorrow.
Products such as milk protein, animal fats, cell-based meat, egg whites and more are receiving hundreds of millions of investor dollars.
What’s the difference between fermentation and precision fermentation?
Fermentation has been used for thousands of years to brew beer and culture cheese, a process that takes months or years to perfect.
Precision fermentation hypercharges that process, creating the optimal conditions for microorganisms and bacteria to create new proteins, fats, fuels and more.