One of the Bay Area’s leading food-tech companies just inked a deal to manufacture the world’s largest known bioreactors for growing meat from cells. Ten of them.
It’s an ambitious move from Good Meat — a division of popular vegan egg maker Eat Just Inc. in Alameda — in partnership with equipment manufacturers of bioprocess equipment ABEC Inc.
The company is one in a growing cultured meat industry that is attempting to create a protein source that might end humanity’s reliance on industrial-based animal agriculture — a leading cause of climate change. Despite the lack of regulatory approval in the United States, investors are pouring billions into the sector and supporting over 100 startups. Good Meat is the first to announce this kind of step. At 250,000 liters each, these bioreactors — tanks that allow animal cells to proliferate — will likely be the biggest and most complex in the world to fabricate.
Once built, these bioreactors will enable Good Meat to produce massive quantities of cultured chicken and beef without any need for slaughter — potentially 30 million pounds per year, according to Josh Tetrick, CEO of Eat Just. He said that number would allow the company to distribute to major retailers and thousands of restaurants in the US. In comparison, cell-based meat competitor Upside Foods recently opened its own pilot facility in Emeryville, which might produce up to 400,000 pounds annually.
“This is an expensive facility,” Tetrick said. Expensive is no joke. The company declined to share numbers, but industry experts suggest it will cost from $400 million to $650 million dollars to build it.
Making such large bioreactors will be a first for ABEC. “While there are some technical challenges, there are none that we feel can’t be overcome,” said Scott Pickering, CEO of ABEC, which until now has supplied only the biopharma industry.
Even a single 250,000-liter bioreactor is huge. Ten of them will need space — a facility roughly 200,000 to 220,000 square feet in size on acres of land. The physical location is yet to be determined but will likely be found “in the next few months,” said Tetrick. The front-runners are in Pennsylvania, Utah, Colorado, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. The company won’t stay local due to high costs and the potential for earthquakes.
Despite this bold announcement, regulatory approval in the U.S. is still pending. Without the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s green light, the 100-plus cultured meat startups hoping to feed the world a different version of animal meat must wait. While Good Meat has regulatory approval to sell in Singapore, it has produced and sold less than 1,000 pounds of chicken this year — or about 323 chickens.
Going big in scale will put pressure on all other costs, including creating media — that fosters cells to grow — and improving cell density, which refers to the ability to grow more cells in each batch. In 250,000 liters, there are hundreds of trillions of cells. At this scale, media inputs such as glucose, amino acids, vitamins, salt and water will be expensive. To help, Eat Just recently partnered with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) — an $85 billion global nutrition company — to work toward ways to lower production expenses.