Finnish scientists have created a novel form of food from electricity and water that they claim could revolutionise the agricultural industry and end world hunger.
The single cell protein powder, which was revealed late last month by scientists at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, does not rely on land use for its production – instead it is made using electricity and carbon dioxide.
“In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine,” VTT principal scientist Juha-Pekka Pitkänen explained. “One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein.”
The protein mixture is highly nutritious, comprising 50 per cent protein and 25 per cent carbohydrates. As well as human food, it could also be used as an animal feed, the scientists say.
The process is up to 10 times more energy efficient than photosynthesis, and if deployed on a large scale could release huge swathes of land for other uses, such as reforesting to create new carbon sinks, according to the scientists.
However, it currently takes the researchers two weeks to make one gram of protein so widespread use remains a long way off. They now plan to start pilot production of the powder to test its use as an animal feed and in human food products, in order to see how effectively their invention could scale.
Its creation comes as a new study published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found traditional staple crops, such as wheat and rice, could lose some of their nutritional value due to climate change.
Scientists at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that when placed in an atmosphere of increased carbon dioxide concentrations the protein content of rice, wheat, barley and potatoes decreased by up to 14 per cent.
If carbon dioxide levels continue to rise as projected the populations of almost 20 countries may lose more than five per cent of their protein by 2050, according to the study.
“These findings are surprising,” lead author Samuel Myers said in a statement. “If we sat down together 15 years ago and tried to anticipate the human health impacts of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, we would not have predicted that our food would become less nutritious. If we disrupt and transform most of the natural systems on our planet, we will continue to encounter surprises like this.”