According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1 in 9 people suffers from chronic undernourishment in 2014 to 2016. By that statistic, it appears to be insignificant, but considering that there are 7.3 billion people in the world, about 795 million people are hungry.
Now Finnish scientists are not taking this situation sitting down. They have developed a revolutionary way of creating food from unconventional materials and system that should be a way in solving the food problem around the world.
Using only electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and microbes, researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland were able to create a batch of single-cell protein that is nutritious enough to be served for dinner, which can also be fed to animals.
It is composed of more than 50% protein and 25% carbohydrates, with the rest as fats and nucleic acids (see top photo).
Photo by Lappeenranta University of Technology
The method, which is part of the Food From Electricity project, releases food production from restrictions related to the environment. The protein can be produced as long as renewable energy like solar is available.
Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, principal scientist at VTT, explains, “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. One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein.”
The researchers estimate that the process of creating food from electricity can be nearly 10 times as energy-efficient as common photosynthesis.
Illustration by Laurie Nygren
However, the present production of the food isn’t as efficient just yet. It took the researchers around two weeks to get one gram of protein using laboratory equipment that is about the size of a coffee cup.
As mentioned, the food developed can be used as animal feed. Professor Jero Ahola of LUT said that 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.
“This allows us to use a completely automatised process to produce the animal feed required in a shipping container facility built on the farm,” he stated.
The focus is now on developing the technology, Ahola added. It’s all about reactor concepts, improving efficiency and controlling the process, so that the food will become a mass product which leads to a drop in the price as the technology becomes more common.