Flint Lockwood has come to town and his future forecast is “Cloudy with a chance of meatballs”.
His team is from Finland and they have made nutritious protein from thin air. The protein is in the form of a powder, but it can be modified into other textures.
Researchers working on a joint study at the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have created a batch of single-cell protein by using electricity and carbon dioxide.
“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air,” explains Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT. The protein can be produced anywhere renewable energy, such as solar energy, is available.
The protein production uses renewable energy plus electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and microbes. The raw materials are exposed to electrolysis in a bioreactor, which produces a powder that consists of more than 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates.
Enormous benefits marred by current drawback, for now
The researchers estimate that creating food from electricity can be nearly 10 times as energy-efficient as common photosynthesis. But currently the process is hopelessly inefficient: it takes around two weeks to produce one gram of protein, using laboratory equipment that is about the size of a coffee cup. To become a viable solution for food production on a large scale, the process will have to be become more efficient. Scientists estimate this will take around ten years.
Enough food for everyone, everywhere
The technology is in its infancy, but if it can be scaled up it could mean the end of world hunger.
“In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine,” said Juha-Pekka Pitkänen.
The scientist foresees that people could have a home reactor — a type of domestic appliance — to produce their own protein as needed.
The process works independently of environmental factors, meaning that food will always be available.
“Compared to traditional agriculture, the production method currently under development does not require a location with the conditions for agriculture, such as the right temperature, humidity or a certain soil type”, Jero Ahola, a professor at LUT, said in the press release.
Double benefit for the environment
Currently the team is working on producing animal feed. This is done in a shipping container facility built on a farm using a completely automatized process. The method requires no pest-control substances. Only the required amount of fertilizer-like nutrients is used in a closed process. In this way negative environmental impacts, like pollution of water systems with runoff waste or the formation of powerful greenhouse gases, are completely avoided, according to Professor Jero Ahola.
That’s not all:
The protein created with electricity can be used to replace fodder. This means large swaths of land can be used for other purposes, like commercial forestry or simply to let nature reclaim the environment and establish natural forests once again.