A trial batch of unicellular protein was produced from carbon dioxide Using electricity as part of a joint study by the Lappeenranta University of Technology and the VTT Research Center in Finland. Produced in this way, the protein can be further processed and used as food or animal feed. This method removes environmental constraints on food production. Protein can be synthesized anywhere, where there is a renewable source of electricity, for example, solar.
"In practice, all the starting materials are available from the air. In the future this technology can be transported, for example, to deserts or other areas threatened by famine. One possible application scenario is a household bioreactor, a household appliance that a consumer can use to produce the desired protein. "- explains the chief researcher from VTT Juha-Pekka Pitkyanen.
Researchers are studying the possibility of protein to act not only as a food, but also as a food for animals. Protein, created with the help of electricity, can serve as a substitute for forage, freeing the land for other purposes, for example, for growing a forest. Thus, food can be produced where it is needed.
"In comparison with traditional agriculture, the method of production that we develop does not require a place with special conditions for farming, such as, for example, temperature, humidity or a certain Type of soil. This allows us to use a completely automated process in order to produce the necessary animal feed in a mini factory located in a freight container on the farm. No pesticide treatment is required for this method. In the closed process only the necessary amount of substances like fertilizers is used. Thus, it is possible to avoid damage to the environment, such as wastewater pollution or greenhouse gas emissions, "says Professor Ero Ahola of the Lappeenranta University of Technology.
Tenfold energy efficiency
According to researchers, the process of creating food from electricity can be almost 10 times more energy efficient than conventional photosynthesis, which is used in the cultivation of soy and other products. In order for the product to be competitive, the production process must be more efficient.
To date, the production of one gram of protein takes two weeks, using a laboratory unit the size of a coffee cup.
At the next stage, the researchers plan to launch a pilot project. At the stage of the pilot project, the material will be produced in quantities sufficient for the development and testing of feed and food products. Thus, commercialization will also be achieved.
"At the moment we are focusing on the development of technology: reactor concepts, technology, improving efficiency and process management. Process management includes tuning and modeling of renewable energy in order to allow microbes to grow as quickly as possible. The idea is to turn this concept into a mass product, reducing the price as technology becomes more ubiquitous. The timing of commercialization depends on the economy, "says Ahola.
50 percent protein
"In the long term, a protein created with the help of electricity is planned to be used in cooking without additional processing. The mixture is very nutritious and consists of more than 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates. The rest is fats and nucleic acids. The composition of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms involved in the process, "explains Pitkänen.
This study is part of the extensive research project of Neo-Carbon Energy, conducted jointly by Lappeenranta University of Technology and VTT. The project aims to develop a fully renewable and non-emission energy system. The study on the production of food from electricity is sponsored by the Academy of Finland and is designed for four years.