How much cheese protein will we be able to make per liter? How much will it cost? Can we estimate the final production cost of the vegan cheese? How does it compare to existing vegan cheese and normal cheese products?
We can probably sell some quantity of the cheese almost no matter how much it costs. There are cheeses that cost more than $500 per pound and people apparently still buy them. However, if we want to compete with normal and vegan cheese, I don't think we can go much higher than $20 a pound.
So let's say that we have a viable product if we can sell the cheese for less than $20 per pound. Gouda cheese has a protein content of about 25% per weight, so we have to produce 1 pound of cheese protein for less than $80. That is $0.1754 per gram of protein. This is without counting the other ingredients and the cheesemaking and aging process.
"A high hCMP concentration of 2.5 g/l was obtained in a fed-batch bioreactor operation."
-- Production of human caseinomacropeptide in recombinant Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Pichia pastoris - Yu-Jin et al.
Assuming we can get 2.5 g/l of a mix of the four required caseins, that is a price of $0.4385 per liter. Compare with milk which has ~8 g/l protein (some portion of this is lost in the whey. how much?) where we'd be able to pay more like $1.3 per liter (almost $5 per gallon) and get the same amount of protein.
Thus, to stay below $20 a pound it must cost us less than $438 to run a 1000 liter batch-fed bioreactor, purify the protein, add other ingredients and make and age the cheese. Honestly I have no idea what it costs to run a 1000 liter bioreactor. We are also comparing retail cheese prices and production cost, which is not really realistic.
Cost estimate based on nutritional yeast price
If we know the g/L total biomass of yeast then we can compare to nutritional yeast. The bulk cost of nutritional yeast looks like $2 per kg if you buy a few metric tonnes. I'm not sure how much of the biomass is likely to be casein in our system, but S. cerevisiae can apparently express protein of interest at up to 25 to 30% of total protein  and the ingredients on yeast flakes lists 9 g protein per 16 g, so that's maximum < 17% target protein per dry biomass. Let's round down to 10%. Then that's $0.02 per g casein. So since the cheddar is only about 20% casein, that's $0.004 per g cheddar or $1.82 per pound .
Now that's just the casein and it may be more expensive than just 10x the cost of yeast since we have to purify the protein as well, so let's double the price to $0.008 per g cheddar or $8 per kg.
It looks like unrefined palm butter (non-sustainable) goes for $1.5 per kg if you buy 20+ tons (about twice the price of unrefined palm oil). Let's say we pay double to get sustainable palm butter, so $3 per kg. It looks like corn syrup is down to $0.5 per kg in volume so let's say $1 per kg. Roughly one third of cheddar is fat, so the cost of palm oil is about $1 per kg cheese. The sugar content is about 5%, so $0.05 per kg.
Total cost of ingredients: $9.05 per kg.
Let's round that up to $10 and say that shipping these ingredients to one location and mixing them doubles their price, so $20 per kg.
It also has to get to the consumer through middle men and it's a perishable. I'm not sure how much more expensive that makes it (for electronics I believe the rule of thumb is 2x). Let's say 4x since it's not _that_ perishable, so $80 per kg or ~$40 per pound.
It also has to go through the cheese-making process, and the retail price for a reasonable cheese is maybe $12 minus the cost of milk (maybe $2), so let's just semi-randomly add $10 per pound for a very rough high estimate of $50 per pound. Compare that to a retail price of Treeline vegan cheese at $41 per pound retail.
There are A LOT of assumptions in this, and many uncertain numbers, but still, it looks like it's within the realm of the possible to make this cost the same as existing fancy vegan or very fancy normal cheeses! Refs:
Cost of running a bioreactor
Here is an estimate from plant cell cultures stating a cost of $500 per kg of isolate with 1 g/l production over 15 days. We'll have to do more research to see how that works out for yeast and how that number changes when g/l is increased.
Comparison with in vitro meat
"Vat grown" meat has already attracted tons of publicity and funding. As a novelty item, you can probably charge an astronomical price for a hamburger of engineered meat. With the right marketing, the same could be true for engineered cheese.
At least for the first several years, we will *not* be competing with conventionally produced cheese. We would be producing a novelty product that can easily demand a significantly higher price.
- Find cost of bulk milk for cheesemaking. What do current cheesemakers pay?
- Find cost of running bioreactors
- Figure out retail vs. production cost cheese markups
- Check if alibaba bulk ingredient prices are realistic
- Find cost of cheesemaking
- ↑ Bio-reactor efficiency numbers from the book "Producing Biomolecular Substances with Fermenters, Bioreactors, and Biomolecular Synthesizers" http://books.google.com/books?id=qShkVsWypzMC&pg=PA128&lpg=PA128&dq=s.+cerevisiae+grams+per+liter&source=bl&ots=xB7oPOxsz4&sig=_KuiaiUrN644K9OhyNAZLZFT8Ns&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rrX7U7uQKur7iwLln4HACw&ved=0CEAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=s.%20cerevisiae%20grams%20per%20liter&f=false
- ↑ Bulk prices from alibaba.com