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Senara's biotech solution for sustainable, animal-free milk

Article-Senara's biotech solution for sustainable, animal-free milk

© iStock/Nikola Stojadinovic dairy plant, milk processing, factory, istock Nikola Stojadinovic RS.jpg
Senara is using biotechnology to create animal-free alternatives to dairy milk that could replace large-scale livestock farming and reduce the environmental impact of the farming sector - but it plans on partnering with farmers and dairies. "We offer a unique opportunity for these businesses to evolve with the changing times," it says.

Senara is pioneering innovative bioreactor technology to cultivate animal cells, mimicking the natural milk production process. Primary cells are obtained directly from milk, or tissue, of cows. These are then selected, prepared, and incubated in the bioreactor, where they can eventually provide a continuous supply of milk for the duration of several months.

“This process harnesses the cells that are the source of normal milk in the animal, thereby creating a bioidentical milk product,” says CEO Svenja Dannewitz. “Key elements include optimised cell culture media, bioreactor engineering, and specialised cell cultivation techniques that taken together, efficiently produce milk.”

The company’s approach enables it to collaborate with the established agriculture and dairy industry, while eliminating the need for mass dairy farming and ensuring a product that is nutritionally equivalent to conventionally produced milk. For this innovation, Senara was recognised as a Finalist at Fi Europe’s Startup Innovation Challenge, in the Most Innovative Plant-Based or Alternative Ingredient category.

Sustainable, ethical, and nutritionally equivalent

From the beginning, the company has been all about making a positive change. “Senara, a name that signifies 'light', perfectly encapsulates our vision of bringing enlightened change to the dairy industry,” explains Dannewitz. “Our journey began with a fusion of innovative ideas born in the lab and a deep, heartfelt concern for our planet's future.”

Recognising the significant methane emissions and environmental impact of traditional dairy farming, Dannewitz and her team wanted to find a solution that harmonises lifestyles with planetary wellbeing. This led them to pioneer a cell-cultivated milk production process, which they believe provides a sustainable, ethical, and nutritionally equivalent method of producing milk.

“We believe in the power of innovation to transform our relationship with food,” continues Dannewitz. “Our mission is about redefining the way we think about food production and consumption. We're committed to a future where enjoying dairy products doesn't come at the expense of our planet.”

A key challenge at the beginning however was how to scale the technology. “To bring our cell-cultivated milk from the bioreactor to the market requires not just scientific breakthroughs but also a reimagining of the production processes,” says Dannewitz. “This task demands more than just technical expertise - it requires a vision that foresees the integration of new technologies into existing systems.”

Navigating the regulatory landscape also presents its own set of challenges. “As pioneers in a new field, we work closely with regulatory bodies to ensure compliance and safety, setting standards for an entirely new category of dairy products,” says Dannewitz.

“Furthermore, we need to build consumer awareness and trust, educating the public about the benefits of our cell-cultivated milk, not just for the environment but for their health and well-being.”

Partnering with the dairy industry

The focus today is on connecting with target customers. These include farmers, dairies, and the downstream food industry. “Our goal is to empower farmers and dairies with our innovative bioreactor technology, enabling them to continue their essential work but in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way,” explains Dannewitz.

“By integrating our cell-cultivated milk production technology into existing production lines, we offer a unique opportunity for these businesses to evolve with the changing times. Our bioreactors are designed to be seamlessly incorporated into traditional dairy settings.”

The response from industry, says Dannewitz, has been overwhelmingly positive, reflecting a growing awareness and acceptance of the need for more sustainable practices. There is also a recognition of shifting consumer preferences and the urgent need for environmental stewardship.

“Industry engagement is not just a business consideration; it's a reflection of a deeper recognition of the need for change,” she says. “Together with our partners, we are writing a new chapter in the story of dairy production, one that is kinder to our planet and more in tune with the considerations of our times.”

Further potential for meaningful change

Looking ahead, Senara’s goal is to scale up production, secure strategic partnerships, obtain regulatory approvals, and bring its cell-cultivated milk to market. The company also plans to expand its product portfolio, collaborate with food manufacturers, and establish itself as a leader in sustainable dairy products.

“Participation in initiatives like the Startup Innovation Challenge has been instrumental in amplifying our message and impact,” says Dannewitz. “This provided us with a platform to showcase our innovation on a global stage, connecting us with like-minded businesses and thought leaders. Through these engagements, we're not just raising awareness but also fostering valuable industry connections.”

Dannewitz hopes that Senara’s presence in such initiatives also serves as a beacon for other startups and innovators, demonstrating the potential for meaningful change and the importance of aligning business goals with environmental and ethical values. “It's a powerful reminder that when industry leaders, innovators, and consumers move together towards a common goal, the potential for positive change is boundless,” she says.