Scientists Discover How To Harvest Food From CO2

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

Researchers have produced an edible protein from captured carbon dioxide (CO2) using a process that could someday be used to help feed animals, or humans during a famine.

“The basic raw materials are electricity and CO2,” Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, principle scientist at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, told FastCompany Monday.

The process grows single-celled organisms from CO2 using hydrogen, split from water through electrolysis, and phosphorus.

“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air,” Pitkänen said in a press release. “In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine.” Eventually, the bioreactor could be placed in a home as an appliance, if the market arrises.

The single-celled substance looks like cardboard-colored powder, according to researchers, and tastes a bit like yeast.

“Currently, it has no particular flavor,” Pitkänen said. “Basically, if you think of dry yeast, it’s quite similar to that. Maybe even less taste. So it’s quite neutral.”

The nameless powder is more than 50 percent protein, about a quarter carbohydrates, and contains fats and nucleic acids, making it a a decent addition to a meal or filler for animal feed.

“The idea is to develop the concept into a mass product, with a price that drops as the technology becomes more common,” Jero Ahola, a professor at the Finnish Lappeenranta University of Technology, which partnered with VTT on the research, said.

The CO2 used to create the food could come from any source, though it’s more likely consumers would prefer the gas byproduct of beer brewing or wine making.

“In the most extreme case, you can also take CO2 from power plants, basically from burning fossil materials,” Pitkänen told FastCompany. But, of course, then you think about the public acceptance: would we like to eat something that comes from a power plant?”

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