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Scale-Up Economics for Cultured Meat: Techno-Economic Analysis and Due Diligence




animal cell culture, bioreactor design, cultured meat, economics, fermentation, scale-up, techno-economic analysis


“Cultured meat” technologies aim to replace conventional meat with analogous or alternative bioproducts from animal cell culture. Developers of these technologies claim their products, also known as “cell-based” or “cultivated” meat, will be safer and more environmentally friendly than conventional meat while offering improved farm-animal welfare. To these ends, Open Philanthropy commissioned this assessment of cultured meat’s potential to measurably displace the consumption of conventional meat. Recognizing that the scalability of any cultured-meat products must in turn depend on the scale and process intensity of animal cell production, this study draws on techno-economic analysis and due-diligence perspectives in industrial fermentation and upstream biopharmaceuticals to assess the extent to which animal cell culture could be scaled like a fermentation process. The analysis identifies a number of significant barriers to the scale-up of animal cell culture. Bioreactor design principles indicate a variety of issues associated with bulk cell growth in culture: Low growth rate, metabolic inefficiency, catabolite and CO2 inhibition, and bubble-induced cell damage will all limit practical bioreactor volume and attainable cell density. With existing bioreactor designs and animal cell lines, a significant engineering effort would be required to address even one of these issues. Economic challenges are further examined. Equipment and facilities with adequate microbial contamination safeguards are expected to have high capital costs. Suitable formulations of amino acids and protein growth factors are not currently produced at scales consistent with food production, and their projected costs at scale are likewise high. The replacement of amino-acid media with plant protein hydrolysates is discussed and requires further study. Capital- and operating-cost analyses of conceptual cell-mass production facilities indicate production economics that would likely preclude the affordability of their products as food. The analysis concludes that metabolic efficiency enhancements and the development of low-cost media from plant hydrolysates are both necessary but insufficient conditions for the measurable displacement of conventional meat by cultured meat.


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2020-12-29 — Updated on 2020-12-29