A team of scientists made food using just electricity and air – leading to questions as to whether it could be a solution to world hunger.
Researchers from Finland created a batch of ‘single-cell protein’ which has enough nutrition to be served as a meal.
According to the scientists, the process of making the food requires only electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and microbes.
The food was created as part of the Food From Electricity project, a collaboration between Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, principal scientist at VTT, said:
In the long term, protein created with electricity is meant to be used in cooking and products as it is. The mixture is very nutritious, with more than 50 per cent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates.
The rest is fats and nucleic acids. The consistency of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms used in the production.
Currently, a bioreactor the size of a coffee cup takes around two weeks to produce one gram of the protein so they’re looking to optimise this technology.
We are currently focusing on developing the technology: reactor concepts, technology, improving efficiency, and controlling the process.
Pitkänen said it’d be around a decade yet before a more efficient version of the system would be available.
Maybe 10 years is a realistic timeframe for reaching commercial capacity, in terms of the necessary legislation and process technology.
Along with food, the researchers are developing the protein so it can be used as animal feed.
The protein, which is created with electricity can be used as a fodder replacement, allowing other land areas to be used for other purposes, such as forestry – meaning the food can be produced where it is needed.
The machine also works independently of environmental factors, meaning it could feed people consistently irrespective of geographical constraints.
Professor Jero Ahola of LUT said:
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.
This allows us to use a completely automatised process to produce the animal feed required in a shipping container facility built on the farm. The method requires no pest-control substances.
Only the required amount of fertiliser-like nutrients is used in the closed process. This allows us to avoid any environmental impacts, such as runoffs into water systems or the formation of powerful greenhouse gases.
Other solutions to this problem include lab-grown meat or turning to insect farming, which produces less waste and requires less energy.
This is certainly a big breakthrough.