The intersection of CO2 with food seems like an unusual one. Yet, scientists have found a way to reuse CO2 to create delicious, life-sustaining nutrition. Emerging startups are now debuting with a technology that transforms CO2 into meat protein and other types of food products.
The global warming issues are pushing the world to find more sustainable, easy-to-produce nutrition. People now well aware of the carbon footprint and animal welfare issues of the meat industry, are heading a global movement towards other alternatives to traditional meat.
Even plant based meat still requires a lot of land and water resources for growing the ingredients. Protein made from CO2 provides a low-land-use and ultra-sustainable alternative as it literally pulls food out of thin air.
CO2 Reuse Company Solar Foods
Solar Foods is a Finland-based startup that has developed a food production out of carbon dioxide process. It uses renewable electricity and CO2 to produce a healthy ingredient that looks like wheat flour and contains 50% protein. The product is called Solein. It is said by the company to be 100 times more climate-friendly than other sources of protein. What makes the product ultra-sustainable is that it is entirely free from agriculture.
The creation process of Solein starts by using renewable energy to split water cells into hydrogen and oxygen. Then the hydrogen is combined with CO2. Other nutrients are also added like potassium and sodium.
Then the company feeds the mix to microbes that create the edible ingredient. Its content is roughly 20 to 25% carbohydrates, 5 to 10% fat, and 50% protein.
For the sourcing of the CO2, the company chose to use its own direct air capture technology. It refuses to partner with industrial emitters on principle. “We don’t want to be there to greenwash carbon emissions from fossil resources,” says chief executive Pasi Vainikka. “And not being reliant on industrial emissions means we are free to go anywhere.”
In terms of funding, Solar Foods has raised €15 million in 2020 in an extension to its Series A round to build a production facility. The company could be ready to offer the first Solein-based products to the market as soon as 2022.
Another startup that is farming from thin air is called Air Protein. It produces protein out of CO2 with the taste and texture of chicken. It even has plans to create air-based “beef”, “pork” and “seafood”. Air Protein uses traditional crops in its processes but on a lot less land.
The company’s crops grow in a fermentation bath of nutrient-rich water by pulling CO2 from the atmosphere. They convert these inputs into proteins. The proteins are ready for harvest in a couple of days rather than months or years compared to traditional farming. Air Protein’s process accelerates food production efficiency by 3,500%.
Deep Branch Biotech
Another company called Deep Branch Biotech is making sustainable food for fish and poultry from carbon dioxide. The startup from the UK uses a fermentation process similar to winemaking or pickling to create the product. The result is a 70% protein food called Proton that can replace traditional livestock feed like fishmeal and soybeans.
Deep Branch Biotech was funded £3 million last year from the UK government to test the large scale implementation of its process. The UK is aiming to find new ways to replace the carbon intensive international supply chains for soy and fishmeal. These two ingredients are normally linked to illegal overfishing and deforestation in the countries where they come from.
For the CO2 sourcing, the company is working with Drax’s renewable energy plant. Deep Branch Biotech claims they wouldn’t want to work with oil producers for the reuse of their CO2. “We don’t want to be seen to be propping up unsustainable industries.” says chief executive Peter Rowe.
The Future of CO2 Reuse?
Microbial-based proteins are a new sustainable technology that has the potential to replace traditional food sources. They can be produced virtually anywhere on the planet as they don’t need the extensive land for pastures or crops farming. As a result, air based protein could be easily scaled and introduced to food chain supplies worldwide. The industry is also utilizing a harmful waste product like CO2 for reuse. It turns it into something increasingly valuable for the rising global population – low-cost nutrition.