Lab-to-Table: Why Chemical Engineers are Key to a Meat-Free Future

Article by Amanda Jasi

Marianne Ellis talks about her work on tissue engineering to find ways to improve societal health by developing biotherapies and non-animal technologies

IN THIS series, we speak to chemical engineers working outside of the fossil fuel sectors, to highlight the breadth of opportunities open to those just starting their careers or seeking to change sectors.

Marianne Ellis is Professor of Bioprocess and Tissue Engineering and Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath. Currently, her research focuses on tissue engineering to find ways to improve societal health by developing biotherapies and non-animal technologies.

“An extension of this is my relatively recent work on cultured meat, which is a protein alternative made by growing muscle cells in a bioreactor. If the potential of this technology is realised, it could address numerous UN Sustainable Development Goals. This includes eradicating hunger as cultured meat could be produced in close systems anywhere in the world. It supports climate goals as it reduces energy and land use as well as emissions compared to the majority of existing meat production methods. There is potential to increase health and well-being by carefully tailoring the content of the cultured meat products.

“My hope is that beyond the process improvements there will also be societal improvements related to the UN goals on creating decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production.

In her work, Marianne relies on chemical engineering and design process know-how. In her day-to-day role, she applies chemical engineering fundamentals, biochemical engineering, bioprocess engineering, and tissue engineering. These are skills which she started developing at the University of Bath, where she achieved a bachelor’s in chemical and bioprocess engineering and then a PhD in biochemical engineering, and where her academic career began in 2005.

What chemical/process engineering skills are in demand in your sector?

“Everything from process modelling to hands on process engineering; we are at a stage where we particularly need people with a skill set to move through pilot scales to manufacturing, recognising that some of the technologies needed to do this are still at a very early stage of development.

“Specifically, the current challenges of cultured meat are how to scale tissue engineering techniques as well as developing animal-free raw materials that are affordable, and then the downstream processing and waste valorisation.

“At the moment we rely on biomedical techniques and technologies which were developed for high value products, whereas cultured meat is a low value product and this introduces challenges of making a viable bioprocess.”

Do you expect the need will grow in your sector for people with chemical engineering skills?

“Yes, very much so. Chemical engineers have the ability to understand the whole process, and be part of a design team that work towards a scaled production process that can achieve triple bottom line performance.

“The cultured meat industry needs chemical engineers, so if you like the challenge of using your skills to innovate by working with a wide range of people from engineering sciences and social sciences, both in industry and academia, then this could be for you!”

University of Bath
Ellis: Chemical engineers have the ability to understand the whole process

What advice would you give to an engineer considering moving into your sector from a different sector?

“Be open to using your skills in this new field!

“When I'm interviewing people, I look for the ability to use their underlying current engineering skills in this new field of cultured meat. I also look for people who know what expertise they have and that they will need to work with others who have expertise that is equally valuable and necessary to achieve the desired outcome of company production.”

What do you know now career-wise that would have been handy at the start of your career?

“The importance of interpersonal skills and being open to working with people with very different backgrounds, skills, and perspectives. I knew this at the start, but I have had the experience to see just how much of a difference this makes to the likelihood of success.”

What skills have you developed since leaving university that you think have been key in helping you achieve your career aims?

“Probably the most useful skill is asking the right questions and then filling in the gaps to practically deliver on ideas to make the answers a reality!

“The most rewarding parts of my role are seeing ideas made into reality, and seeing students learn and the enjoyment that they get from mastering skills and turning their ideas into reality as well.

“Working in academia requires and enables the ability to stay at the forefront of knowledge and creativity to innovate solutions that address global challenges through our research work. Beyond that, working in education means working with amazing future chemical engineers who bring their own fresh perspectives and ideas and challenging questions.”


To read more articles in this series visit https://www.thechemicalengineer.com/tags/career-paths/

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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