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Gelatex unveils scalable scaffolding technology for cultured meats

By 2040, cultured meat is estimated to make up 35% of global meat production. For this prediction to come true, though, we need scalable scaffolds to give texture to the meat. Without a scaffold, according to Märt-Erik Martens and Mari-Ann Meigo Fonseca from Gelatex Technologies, the “meat is just mush”. But although nanofibers are proven to provide high performance, production technologies can be slow and expensive.

Gelatex Technologies, which was founded in 2016, is a Techstars-backed materials company, whose mission is to turn nanofiber production on its head. The company has patented a novel high-capacity solution-spinning method and device for nanofiber manufacturing to innovate cultured meat, tissue engineering, and many other industries. The material comes in rolls, is easily scalable and is claimed to be up to 90% cheaper than current nanofibrous materials.

Martens’ passion in life is finding new and innovative ways to make the materials and technology around us work for the greater good, to be one step closer to achieving sustainability and advancing people’s health. Armed with an MSc in materials science, the Co-founder & CEO of the Tallinn, Estonia-based company, has devoted his whole scientific career to nanofibers and bio-based materials and is the main inventor of Gelatex's proprietary nanofiber production technology. Meigo Fonseca’s background is in the textile sector – she has a BASc degree in Technical Design and Technology of Apparel and an MBA degree in Entrepreneurship and Technology Management.

The pair met at the University of Tartu, at which Meigo Fonseca was doing her MBA and Martens was pursuing his MSc in Materials Science, specializing in gelatin nanofibers. Together they came up with the idea of using gelatin nanofibers for the production of a leather-like textile. Accordingly, Gelatex started developing its high-throughput nanofiber technology back in 2017. In 2020, though, after having participated in a Techstars accelerator and while helping to reduce filtration material scarcity during the Covid-19 pandemic, they realized that their proprietary nanofiber technology could be used in various fields.

“We decided to pivot,” says Meigo Fonseca. “Now we focus on developing and producing nanofibrous materials for various industries such as cultured meat, tissue engineering, wound care, filtration, or energy storage. Our main focus goes to enabling the cost reduction and scalability of cultured meat with our high-performance plant-based 3D scaffolds. Our patented solution-spinning technology is the fastest, safest and cheapest technology for nanofiber production.”

Nanofiber is a fiber with a diameter of only a few nanometers – that’s more than 100 times smaller than a human hair. They have unique properties such as high porosity or high surface area to mass ratio, which enables special performance in various applications such as cell culture, filtration, absorption, energy storage, etc.

Martens tells us that the biggest available electrospinning (currently used technology) units in the market can produce 360g/h – Gelatex’s semi-industrial unit, though, can already produce up to 5kg/h. Such a production capacity is enough nanofibers for the production of 1,300kg of meat in only a single eight-hour workday. Due to this much higher production throughput and 28% smaller electricity consumption, Martens suggests this can reduce the cost of nanofibers by up to 90%.

“The first step with cultured meat is always cell multiplication,” continues Martens. “The next step is structuring the cells with the help of a scaffold to turn the mass of cells into structured muscle tissue. Without the scaffold, we would have an unstructured mass of cells resembling more of a paté. Our scaffolds help the cells to form a tissue and make it feel and taste like real meat.”

The edible raw materials used for Gelatex's 3D scaffold are high-quality and plant-based and the nanofibrous materials are even customizable – the fiber diameter, porosity, density, thickness, can all be easily adjusted to suit specific needs.

Last year, the company closed a €1.2 million seed round from investors in Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Brazil and the USA. This year, it has moved to new bigger facilities in Tallinn, expanded its team with members from Greece and Mexico and will focus on developing the scaffold solution even further.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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