During the early days of spaceflight, NASA came up with an idea to create food from the carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts, essentially allowing crews to eat the air inside their vessel during long voyages. While the concept never quite became a reality, a California-based firm is now using the same principle to produce animal-free meat, which it hopes will soon feed people here on Earth.
As the global population continues to increase, keeping everyone nourished is becoming more and more of a challenge. In particular, producing enough meat to feed a spiraling number of carnivorous mouths is placing a huge strain on resources, while also having a detrimental effect on the environment.
To solve this problem, Air Protein has developed a probiotic production process that uses microbes to convert carbon dioxide in the air into a protein substance that has the same amino acid profile as an animal protein.
These microbes – called hydrogenotrophs – are cultivated inside fermentation tanks, where they are fed on a combination of carbon dioxide, water, and other nutrients. Using this mix, they produce a brown “flour” that is 80 percent protein and described as having a “neutral” taste.
While it is not entirely accurate to call this substance “meat”, Air Protein says that it can be blended with other ingredients to create meat substitutes.
“The statistics are clear. Our current resources are under extreme strain as evidenced by the burning Amazon due to deforestation and steadily increasing droughts,” explained Air Protein CEO Lisa Dyson in a statement.
“We need to produce more food with a reduced dependency on land and water resources. Air-based meat addresses these resource issues and more.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transport sector. Partly for this reason, a number of plant-based meat alternatives have been developed in recent years.
However, many of these products rely on soy or other plants, which often contribute to deforestation as land is cleared for their cultivation. Air Protein, on the other hand, can be produced using a tiny amount of land.
On top of this, creating meat from microbes and air means that no pesticides need to be used, and that food can be produced in a matter of hours rather than months, as is often the case with animal or plant-based protein sources.