Finnish scientists have created a series of unilateral proteins that are nutritious enough to serve for dinner, and they have succeeded with the help of a system that supplies renewable energy. The whole process requires only four ingredients – electricity, water, carbon dioxide and microbes. Synthetic food was created as part of the Currents Food Project, which represents the cooperation between Lappeenranta University of Technology and Technical Research Center VTT in Finland
After exposing raw materials to electrolysis in a bioreactor, the process forms a powder consisting of more than 50 percent of protein and 25 percent of carbohydrates – a texture that can be changed by altering the microbes used in production.
The next stage is system optimization, says Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, a leading scientist at VTT because a coffee cup size bioreactor needs about two weeks to produce one gram of protein. "We are currently focusing on technology development: reactor concepts, technology, performance enhancement, and process control," said Pitkänen at a press conference.
It predicts that it will take about ten years before a more effective system becomes widely available – "Maybe 10 years is a realistic time frame for achieving commercial capacity, with regard to the necessary laws and technology."
World Without Hunger
The potential impact of food produced by electricity and other widely available raw materials is enormous. There are currently two basic ways to use it.
First, it could be a way of feeding hungry people and providing the source of food in areas that are not suitable for agricultural production. Pitkänen said that in the future "technology could be transferred to deserts and other starving areas," and will provide a source of cheap and nutritious nutrition to those most in need.
The machine works independently of environmental factors, which means it could feed people constantly, said Jero Ahola, a professor at the University of Technology at Lappeenranta. "It does not require a location with conditions for the development of agriculture, such as a certain temperature, humidity degree, or a certain type of soil."
Secondly, synthetic food could be a way of reducing emissions globally by reducing the demand for livestock and crops that are needed to feed these cattle. Currently, the meat industry accounts for between 14 and 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and occupies large spaces and land that could be used in other ways.
Foods from this electrical project could reduce the amount of unsustainable agriculture needed to fill our belly because it gives us a smaller, cheaper, and renewable method of obtaining nutrients. Other solutions to this problem include laboratory-bred meat or turning into insect farms, creating less waste and requiring less energy.