Electricity produced protein could be answer to world hunger

Electricity produced protein could be answer to world hunger
Image courtesy of Lappeenranta University of Technology/ VTT Technical Research Centre

Researchers in Finland have produced a batch of single-cell protein using electricity and carbon dioxide.

The researchers – from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland – said this method can be further developed as use as food and animal feed.

“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,” said Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT.

Along with food, the researchers are developing the protein to be used as animal feed. The protein created with electricity can be used as a fodder replacement, thus releasing land areas for other purposes, such as forestry. It allows food to be produced where it is needed.

Professor Jero Ahola of LUT added: “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.

“The method requires no pest-control substances. Only the required amount of fertiliser-like nutrients is used in the closed process. This allows us to avoid any environmental impacts, such as runoffs into water systems or the formation of powerful greenhouse gases.”

According to estimates, the process of creating food from electricity can be nearly 10 times as energy-efficient as common photosynthesis, which is used for cultivation of soy and other products.

For the product to be competitive, the production process must become even more efficient. Currently, the production of one gram of protein takes around two weeks, using laboratory equipment that is about the size of a coffee cup.

The next step the researchers are aiming for is to begin pilot production. At the pilot stage, the material would be produced in quantities sufficient for development and testing of fodder and food products. This would also allow a commercialisation to be done.

Ahola said: “We are currently focusing on developing the technology: reactor concepts, technology, improving efficiency and controlling the process.

“The idea is to develop the concept into a mass product, with a price that drops as the technology becomes more common. The schedule for commercialisation depends on the economy.”