Seed Grantee - Freddie Briggs

Freddie Briggs, one of our 2023 seed grantees, gives us an overview of his research project

Navigating the Challenges of Cultivated Meat: A Simulation Approach

By Freddie Briggs

As the global population hurtles towards an estimated 10 billion by 2050, the conventional food industry faces a monumental task of feeding this growing populace. The strain on agricultural land, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions present an unsustainable trajectory. Agricultural land availability will need to expand by an area twice the size of India to feed the anticipated population in 2050, a prospect that is simply infeasible on many levels (Ranganathan et al.). 

The Promise of Cultivated Meat

Perhaps the most promising alternative arising from the cellular agriculture sector is in the form of cultivated meat. Bioreactors are used to produce the same proteins as from conventional livestock farming methods; cultivated meat is predicted to provide immense benefits in terms of water, electricity, and land usage, while eliminating the need for slaughter and antibiotic use (“The science of cultivated meat | GFI”). However, there are a variety of challenges facing this technology that are preventing these benefits being realised to a recognisable extent.

Commercial Scalability: A Daunting Task

The ultimate goal of the cultivated meat industry is to achieve production volumes that can compete directly with conventional methods on cost. However, the sheer magnitude of this task becomes apparent when considering that the combined global bioreactor volume would need a ninefold expansion to meet just 1% of the protein market (“Cultivated meat bioprocess design | Deep dive | GFI”). The challenges extend beyond bioreactor capacity; the growth medium and essential components for the process have, until recently, been produced at lab-scale quantities, driving costs higher. Consequently, production costs associated with cultivated meat exceed those of traditional livestock farming, presenting a barrier to economic feasibility. The intricacies of plant economics and the uncertainty surrounding selling prices add layers of complexity to an industry still in its infancy.

The Price Parity Predicament

While the cost of cultivated meat has seen a significant decline from the early days when a lab-grown burger cost a staggering $300,000 USD in 2013, achieving price parity with conventionally produced products remains a significant hurdle. Current prices, hovering around $100 per kilogram, are a substantial improvement but fall short of widespread affordability (“Making Meat Affordable: Progress Since The $330,000 Lab-Grown Burger”). The challenge lies in convincing consumers to embrace cultivated meat when faced with a price premium, even if it is temporary. Trends indicate a downward trajectory in pricing, and with ongoing research and investment, the necessary raw materials may be produced at greater quantities, paving the way for further cost reductions. 

Simulating the Future of Cultivated Meat Production

To gain insights into the economic dynamics of cultivated meat production and the impact of changes to material prices, we turned to simulation tools. Using SuperPro Designer software we modelled the commercial production process, shedding light on critical cost drivers. The simulation considered recombinant proteins and growth factors, used in culture media, as key production costs, projecting future prices based on data from existing research papers. We quantified the impact of these cost drivers using a sensitivity analysis, and found that they were of similar significance when it comes to impact on profitability. However, the complexity of bioreactors and the inherent limitations of simulation software posed challenges, emphasising the intricate nature of cultivating meat at a commercial scale.

Key Findings and Hope for the Future

While the simulation provided economic insights rather than operational nuances, it offered a positive vision for the future of cultivated meat. Optimistic views on all costs indicated that the lowest selling price for the plant to break even over a 15-year project lifetime would be $25 - $30 USD per kilogram. This provides considerable hope for the imminent future of cultivated meat as it will, hypothetically, move several steps closer to price parity with conventional meat in the next few years.

As the cultivated meat sector advances, managing the complexities of scaling production and achieving economic viability will be vital. While challenges persist, the trajectory toward affordability and sustainability seems promising and shows that cellular agriculture can play a pivotal role in reshaping the global food landscape.

References:

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