Designing new foodsBurgers, pasta and bread made from CO2
Would you eat carbon dioxide? It might not sound very appetising at first, but after reading this article, you might want to give it a try! For all of you trying to find planet-friendly alternatives to meat or soy, we have got the solution for you. Read More
Would you eat carbon dioxide? It might not sound very appetising at first, but after reading this article, you might want to give it a try! For all of you trying to find planet-friendly alternatives to meat or soy, have we got the solution for you.
Given that one of the main causes of climate change is too much CO2 being released into the atmosphere, it would make sense to just filter it back out again. Elaborate technologies have already been developed to capture the greenhouse gas from the air. But what do we do with it then? And why not turn it into food?
An increasing number of branches of industry have started turning the waste product into something useful, and even the food industry has discovered an application for CO2: Finnish start-up Solar Foods and US start-up Air Protein are producing a protein-rich powder out of carbon dioxide that is meant to replace meat, seafood or soy in a nutritious diet. The result is a rather tasteless powder that can be added to foods such as bread, pasta or plant-based meat alternatives. Solar Food claims its final product ‘Solein’ is composed of between 65 and 75 per cent protein plus up to 20 per cent carbohydrates as well as some fat and minerals.
The US competitor’s ‘Air Protein’ is supposed to contain up to 80 per cent protein. According to the company, it has the same amino acid profile as animal protein. This means, unlike soy or other plant proteins, it contains B vitamins including B12 – a vitamin people who adhere to plant-based diets are often deficient in.
The protein-rich powder made out of carbon dioxide is meant to replace meat, seafood or soy in a nutritious diet.
Synthesizing protein like brewing beer
Right now, it takes huge cattle ranches and soy farms to produce enough protein-rich foods for humankind. Modern farming contributes heavily to global greenhouse gas emissions and consumes a whopping 70 per cent of all freshwater resources around the world.
The new protein invention is set to change all this and, as surprising as it may sound, all it takes is carbon dioxide, some water, nutrients and green electricity.
The companies use a fermentation process similar to brewing beer to produce their nutritious powders. But instead of sugars, they ‘feed’ their microbes captured carbon dioxide and a variety of mineral nutrients. Solar Food’s CEO Pasi Vainikka explains that as the brewing liquid thickens, it is continually extracted and dried.
As surprising as it may sound, all it takes is carbon dioxide, some water, nutrients and green electricity.
Zero emissions, no wasting water
While crops require months to go from seed to harvest, the microbe-grown proteins can be produced in a matter of hours. And since nothing but carbon dioxide and a few other ingredients are needed, it can be done anywhere in the world. Compared to traditional protein production in farming, gas-based fermentation also requires very little water – up to 99 per cent less, according to Solar Foods – and the production process generates almost zero greenhouse gasses as it is entirely powered by renewable energy.
"We’ve set out to disconnect food production from agriculture."
Pasi Vainikka, CEO at Solar Foods
Solein is expected to be as affordable as soy within the next ten years. Until then, the company is working to obtain the regulatory approval for human consumption – and to produce Solein in space together with the European Space Agency. Perhaps the ESA astronauts will soon be able to tell us if it is tasty as well as good for the environment. Or we may be able to try it out ourselves as a CO2 burger or lasagne from the supermarket.