ÄIO, a biotechnology start-up that develops food products from by-products of the wood and the agricultural industry, raised 1 M€ from investors including Nordic Foodtech VC, EAS and other partners to replace the environmentally depleting oils currently used in the food industry with sustainable full-value alternatives.
The company ÄIO, founded in January last year by TalTech bioengineers Petri-Jaan Lahtvee and Nemailla Bonturi, produces edible fats and oils from agricultural and wood industry side-streams using results from years of biotech research. The company’s goal is to make the food industry more sustainable and provide a better use of the natural resources.
According to co-founder of ÄIO Petri-Jaan Lahtvee, current food system is responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions. “Compared to livestock farming, plant-based meat also requires 47-99% less arable land, emits 30-90% less greenhouse gases and uses 72-99% less water,” he emphasized. “But, palm and coconut oils used to make plant-based meat alternatives, do not deliver the same taste and mouthfeel as animal fat. Also, the production of these oils is not sustainable, they are unhealthy and can cause allergic reactions,” commented co-founder of the company Nemailla Bonturi.
According to Mika Kukkurainen, partner and founder of Nordic Foodtech VC, the global food industry is constantly looking for new sustainable and healthy alternatives to replace palm oil and coconut oil, and the fund was very excited to find such a team and their innovations right in the TalTech lab: “Turning low-value side-streams into something so valuable is very futureproof and has great scalable business potential. We are happy to join ÄIO when taking the first steps outside of university, and already looking forward in helping the team towards future success.”
As the next step, ÄIO plans to increase its production capacity, test products in co-operation with food industry, and apply for novel food permits to enter the European market. By 2026, it is planning to start the production on an industrial scale. ÄIO’s RedOil can also be used in cosmetic products and household chemicals, replacing lubricants and surfactants derived from petroleum or palm oil.
The entire production process is based on research carried out in Estonia, through which industrial side-streams are transformed into food products through a fermentation process, similar to brewing beer or raising bread with yeast. The fermentation process produces fats rich in healthy fatty acids and antioxidants.
Fermentation uses the “red bug” microbe created and patented by Bonturi, which turns side-streams of agriculture and other industries into tasty and appetizing fats and oils. “In the same way that we make kombucha, yogurt, bread, and beer, we can turn sawdust or other low-value biomass into valuable and healthy ingredients. Our “red bug” cannot turn water into wine, but it can turn sawdust into food,” explained Bonturi.
“As scientists, we were excited that years of research resulted in a real product that could revolutionize the entire food industry and consumer experience. We highly appreciate everyone who has contributed to our success story, and we will continue to develop the company and its products together with our partners, the leading investor, and the food industry. We will also continue to work with TalTech to train the next generation of bioengineers,” added Lahtvee.
äio tech OÜ is a company that grew out of TalTech – it was founded in 2022, and, with the help of a unique microbe, produces sustainable and edible oils and fats from side-streams of the wood and the agricultural industry. ÄIO’s international team includes 6 experts – two Brazilians and four Estonians, all possessing experience in bioprocessing, synthetic biology, and food technology.
Nordic Foodtech VC is venture capital fund (42 M€) investing in food technology and future of food. The Helsinki based venture capital fund operates in all Nordic and Baltic countries and has invested in 10 companies so far, of which ÄIO is their first investment in the Baltic countries.