Bezos Earth Fund Establishes Sustainable Protein Research Center at NC State University – vegconomist

The Bezos Earth Fund has awarded North Carolina State University $30 million over the next five years to establish the first Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein. This project will create a biomanufacturing hub for sustainable dietary proteins that are environmentally friendly, healthy, and affordable.

“Sustainable protein has tremendous potential, but more research is needed”

This funding is part of the Earth Fund’s larger $100 million commitment to create a network of open-access research and development centers focused on sustainable protein alternatives to expand consumer choices while addressing environmental concerns.

An additional $40 million investment was announced alongside this grant, complementing the previously committed $60 million. The overarching goal is to contribute to the Earth Fund’s $1 billion pledge towards food system transformation.

Bezos Earth Fund plant-based sushi
© Bezos Earth Fund

Chancellor Randy Woodson of NC State noted, “As a land-grant university in a state with significant animal agriculture, NC State is uniquely positioned to help shape the future of sustainable food production. We’re thankful for the support from the Bezos Earth Fund that will help drive economic and workforce development in this critical area of sustainable protein production to feed a growing world population in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.”

The potential of sustainable protein

The new center will engage both academic and industry partners to research, develop, and commercialize innovative technologies. It will also focus on training the emerging workforce and assessing consumer preferences regarding protein sources.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Earth Fund, spoke on the urgency of this initiative, stating, “Food production is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s critical we find ways to feed a growing population without degrading the planet. Sustainable protein has tremendous potential, but more research is needed to reduce the price and improve flavor and texture to ensure nutritious, affordable products are available. It’s about choice.”

Bezos Earth Fund
© Bezos Earth Fund

Focus areas of research

The center will focus on three types of sustainable proteins: plant-based products, precision fermentation-derived proteins, and cultivated meat grown from animal cells. 

Andy Jarvis, director of the Future of Food at the Earth Fund, added, “Feeding a growing world requires producing tasty proteins that won’t further degrade nature. These centers will advance open-source, sustainable protein R&D to benefit consumer choice while protecting our planet.”

“Feeding a growing world requires producing tasty proteins that won’t further degrade nature”

The center is expected to attract biomanufacturing firms to North Carolina, fostering job creation and economic growth. The funding will support workforce preparation for advanced food technology roles through collaborations with various universities and community colleges. Industry partnerships will further support food production and processing, including contributions from small companies and startups.

Bezos Earth Fund to establish Centers for Sustainable Protein
© Rocío Lower/Bezos Earth Fund

Academic and industry collaborations

NC State will collaborate with academic partners such as NC A&T State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Duke University, and Forsyth Tech Community College. Over 20 industry partners will be involved in the center, facilitating technology transfer, student internships, and mentorship programs.

Cultivated meat company Believer Meats is one of the key partners, bolstered by the company’s new commercial-scale facility set to produce 26 million pounds of cultivated meat annually and create 100 jobs by the end of 2024.

Gustavo Burger, CEO of Believer Meats, commented on the partnership: “The Bezos Earth Fund grant is a testament to the great work being done in North Carolina and reinforces our decision to locate here. We are excited to partner with the center to contribute our innovative, real-world solutions to meet the increasing demand for protein and nutrition.”

bezos center for sustainable protein
Ryan Combs, Gustavo Burger, Bill Aimutis, Andy Jarvis © Believer Meats

Bill Aimutis, co-principal investigator on the grant and co-director of the center, noted, “This is a significant opportunity for North Carolina to not only be a state with a thriving animal-sourced foods sector but also one where it is a powerhouse in complementary proteins, building new industry and driving economic growth for the state.

“With the center, we are looking to develop solutions that will provide greater diversity of choices for consumers that are both tasty and sustainable.”

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