Scientists have successfully created food out of electricity and air, leading to hopes that the technique could one day be used to solve world hunger.
The Food From Electricity study was set up by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). The study has the rather ambitious goal of solving world hunger.
However lofty that may seem, it may not be that far off, after researchers managed to create protein-rich food from carbon dioxide and electricity. As if that wasn't enough, the electricity they used was renewable.
The Finnish researchers created the food by exposing the raw materials – carbon dioxide captured from the air, water, and microbes – and putting them into a coffee cup-sized "protein reactor". They then exposed this to electrolysis, the process of passing an electric current through a liquid containing ions, resulting in chemical decomposition.
It takes around two weeks to produce 1 gram of the protein powder, which is made up of 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrate. The rest is made up of fats and nucleic acids.
It probably isn't delicious and won't win Masterchef anytime soon, but nonetheless, it is food that was made from renewable energy sources and air. If it can be produced on a larger scale efficiently, it could also play a huge part in helping to solve world hunger – an expressed goal of the team at LUT.
"In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine," Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT said in a statement.
According to estimates by the researchers, the process is already 10 times more efficient than photosynthesis, but to make it competitive with normal food-making processes the next step is to make it even more efficient still.
The researchers hope that their process could eventually be used to replace animal fodder, freeing up land to be used for food production, or even to create food for humans experiencing food crises.
The team believes that their system may even have numerous advantages over traditional methods of food production.
"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," Professor Jero Ahola of LUT explained in the statement.
If their attempts to make their system more efficient are successful, this could provide us with a renewable way of getting the food we need without any environmental impact.