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Meat Made Right Out Of Thin Air

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Berkley, California company called Air Protein has announced the creation of “air-based meat.”

A Neutral-Tasting, Protein-Rich Powder That Can Be Combined With Other Things To Be Like Meat

Air Protein says this new form of protein is created from elements found in the air, combined with water and mineral nutrients. The company uses microbes – single-celled microorganisms – called hydrogenotrophs to convert carbon dioxide from the air into a protein-rich material with all the amino acid characteristics of animal proteins. What does that even look like?

The hydrogenotrophs are cultivated inside fermentation tanks, where they are fed a combination of carbon dioxide, water, and other nutrients. That mix produces brown flour that tastes “neutral,” according to Air Protein. What, you thought it might taste like chicken? That bland, brown flour consists of 80 percent protein. It’s a long way from meat as any of us might imagine it on a plate — not bacon, burgers or bratwurst — but it can be combined with other ingredients to produce meat alternatives.

Air Protein envisions using this protein flour product to make meatless burgers, protein-rich kinds of pasta, cereals, drinks, and more. (Could an 18 air-meat pizza be on the horizon?).

Meat Alternatives Are A Big Deal, With Big Implications

This notion of meat alternatives is a big deal. Beyond Meat, a company that produces meat alternatives from plant ingredients, is one of the fastest-growing food companies in the United States. From 2016 to 2018, its revenues grew from $16.2 million to $87.9 million. For 2020, it projects to earn revenues of $358 million.

If plants can be meat, why not air? On a basic level, Air Protein’s microbes act like plants in the way they convert carbon dioxide into food. Remember high school biology? That’s what plants do through photosynthesis, except in that case the food is chemical energy rather than a porterhouse.

Air Protein described the breakthrough this way: “This meat made with air-based protein is produced without the traditional land, water and weather requirements… By transforming elements of the air we breathe into protein, this will revolutionize how we approach food production in the future.”

What does Air Protein mean by revolutionizing the approach to food production in the future? Well, the United Nations has predicted that food production will have to increase by 70 percent to meet (no pun intended) the demands of 10 billion people by 2050, but that only an additional five percent of land will be available on which to do it. Seventy percent more food on 5 percent more land is a tough formula, one that Air Protein is trying to solve.

Dr. Lisa Dyson, Air Protein’s Chief Executive Officer, puts it this way: “We need to produce more food with a reduced dependency on land and water resources. Air-based meat addresses these resource issues and more.” Dyson presented,”A forgotten Space Age technology could change how we grow food,” a TED-curated event in  May 2016. That talk is available in 24 languages and has been viewed online over 1.4 million times.

An Old Idea Made New Again

Newfangled as it may seem, Air Protein‘s idea is based on an old one. NASA developed an idea to create food for astronauts out of the carbon dioxide contained in their exhaled breath. Astronauts would effectively be eating the air inside spaceships during extended voyages, then exhale more carbon dioxide back into the air to repeat the cycle all over again.

Similar ideas are at work in Finland, where a company called Solar Foods is working on producing protein powders out of carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. The resulting high-protein, flour-like product contains protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Watch for it in protein shakes and yogurt on Finnish store shelves near you!

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