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New Food Created From Carbon Dioxide and Electricity

pile of red crumbs or ingredients on a white background

Scientists have found a new way to create food – and they think that it could be used to solve world hunger.

The protein reactor currently takes a fortnight to create a spoonful of a new protein powder, but does so using just electricity and carbon dioxide.

Creation of new protein

The single-cell protein probably won’t be the tastiest thing you could add to your diet. However, it could present a solution for world hunger – so long as researchers can work on a way to produce it in greater volumes on a faster timeframe.

Yellow spices in a white dish with a spoon in it

The Academy of Finland set up a new study to try to find a way to relieve world hunger, a lofty goal which nevertheless may well have been at least partially achieved. This project really does take new product development to the extreme, as they have not only come up with a potential answer – but actually created a whole new type of food.

The study was dubbed ‘Food From Electricity’, looking at the idea that electrical power could be harnessed in some way to produce viable nutrition. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) teamed up to work on the project. They managed to take carbon dioxide simply from the air to create the protein powder. It could be used to feed animals or humans, meaning that a futuristic sci-fi “protein block” could well be one pop culture prediction that comes true.

The protein reactor is currently about the size of a coffee machine, and can be used anywhere so long as there is access to electricity. The process has been described as being 10 times more energy efficient than photosynthesis, which is the process naturally used inside plant cells.

Far-reaching implications

A future where we can make our own protein powder could have far-reaching implications. First and foremost, land which is currently used to graze cattle or grow animal feed could be repurposed if they were being fed on powder instead. The land could be reverted to forests, a growing need as far as the atmosphere is concerned, or turned to make more crops for human consumption.

The researchers think that their reactor could become a household item, allowing families to feed themselves on their electric bill. It could cut down hunger around the world, and possibly eliminate starvation entirely if it is as successful as they hope.

If the electricity used was from renewable sources, this would also be a foodstuff with no environmental impact at all.

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, a scientist at VTT, said: "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."

In case anyone with a chef job was worried, it turns out that it could actually be flavoured or made into a different consistency as well, simply by modifying the process. We could be heading towards a whole new era of food production and preparation, where great steps will be needed to turn the protein powder into something that people want to eat.

He added, "In the long term, protein created with electricity is meant to be used in cooking and products as it is. The mixture is very nutritious, with more than 50 per cent protein and 25 per cent carbohydrates. The rest is fats and nucleic acids. The consistency of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms used in the production.”