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It has finally happened. Scientists produced food from thin air – quite literally! It’s a bold idea which could make high quality protein available worldwide for the first time since the modern era began.

We can have protein from the air, and process it to taste like steaks or whatever protein source is desired. It is a win win situation for people all over the world.

Researchers from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) in collaboration with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. developed a method where electricity, along with carbon dioxide and microbes produced plant protein. The microbes were provided nutrients including nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus and other micronutrients.

Chlorophyll is the plant matter which converts carbon dioxide from the air, along with water and other nutrients, into plant matter including protein. This process has been a known for a long time. This is also the process which makes food for herbivorous animals as well as marine animals in the sea.

To make food from air, an electric-powered protein reactor was created where the natural chemical ingredients of protein incubated with microbes and after two weeks, yielded protein. Although it took a relatively long time, and produced a small amount of powdered protein, what is important is the energy used during the process. The energy efficiency of plants in producing protein from sunlight is estimated at 1% to 2%.

In contrast, algae biomass efficiency in producing protein is estimated at 5%. The protein reactor has an efficiency rating estimated as equal to that of algae biomass.

When coupled with a renewable energy source like solar or wind energy, this method of producing plant protein is energy efficient, and it has a carbon footprint of zero. It is a possible solution to the potential lack of land in producing plant food, and animal-based protein.

The end product of this process is a single-celled protein which can be still converted or transformed into other protein products. It is nutritious, being composed of 50% protein, 25% carbohydrates, and the rest being fats, and other nucleic acids.

Ensuring the Future of Food

Currently, the length of time to produce plant protein is around two weeks, which yields a small amount less than a tablespoon. The next step is to scale the process and protein reactor, to produce more in a shorter length of time. Food researchers are concerned that there may be a shortage of land for farming in the near future. The production of plant protein by artificial means can help solve the problem of a protein shortage.

A bottle of protein powder and a chart

There is a rising demand for animal protein, and yet, there is only a finite amount of land for raising livestock. In addition, livestock requires feed from plant sources. For farmers to raise cattle and other livestock, they need land, which usually means that forests have to be cleared. The livestock produce greenhouse gases due to their waste products. Raising livestock in large enough amounts to provide adequate protein for everyone on the planet has been a challenge throughout time. With population growth and lack of appropriate land, it has become even more challenging.

With this bold method of production, food protein eliminates the need for livestock. We can have protein from the air, and process it to taste like steaks or whatever protein source is desired. It is a win win situation for people all over the world. More and better-quality protein, without the heavy environmental impacts.

Right now, this is a bold idea. But it is one that can have profound impact worldwide within a matter of a few short years. The ability to create protein from common substances, to essentially “grow” food without a plant or an animal involved, makes it far easier to feed the population of the world. Combined with other bold actions, such as the creation of good tasting meat substitutes, and we may well be on our way to a whole new world of food resources.

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