A Finnish company that began with the object of making food to sustain space travel is producing protein out of thin air.
Solar Foods is using renewable electricity to turn the carbon dioxide in the air into a food source.
The end result is a bland protein-rich powder, named Solein, that is made up of bacteria that absorbs carbon dioxide and, when added to other substances, makes nutritional and amino acid-rich foods.
Solar Foods was established by Dr Pasi Vainikka in 2017. Based at the Finnish research institute VTT, its initial aim was to create a continuous supply of protein for astronauts en route to Mars in the NASA space programme.
Working with the Lappeenranta University of Technology, Dr Vainikka and his colleagues took the idea further – seeking a food source devoid of any agricultural input.
At the same time they are tackling climate change directly through reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by embracing it for food production.
According to the Genetic Literacy Project website, Solein is created from the combination of a proprietary bacteria, CO2, water, and electricity with a natural fermentation process akin to that of yeast.
Instead of sugars, however, the microbes consume CO2 and hydrogen through water electrolysis. The resulting powder is 50 per cent protein, 20-25 per cent carbs and five-10 per cent fat.
According to Dr Vannika, the soil microbes used for the proprietary bacteria only require collection from the land once – with all subsequent microbes used grown in a lab.
Still in the very early stages of development, it is hoped that one day it can be used to enhance a range of food stuffs, such as yogurts, breads, drinks and pasta and lab-grown meat substitutes.