Scientists Create Single-Cell Protein Meals Using Electricity and Carbon Dioxide

August 3, 2017

Scientists from two research institutes in Finland have developed a unique method of producing a batch of nutritious single-cell protein. By further optimizing the novel procedure, the researchers said the proteins can be enhanced to be fit for human and animal consumption. If applied on a global scale, this food production technology could potentially provide a sustainable and convenient solution to alleviating world hunger.

Single-cell protein food made from electricity

[Image Source: Lappeenranta University of Technology]

Using electricity and carbon dioxide to produce single-cell protein

Scientists from the Lappeenranta University of Technolgy (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Center of Finland have developed a unique process that enabled the production of single-cell protein. The research study used electricity and carbon dioxide to develop the novel procedure, which can be optimized to produce proteins fit for human and animal consumption.

Ideally, this novel procedure of producing single-cell protein food does not require fertile agricultural soil. LUT Professor, Jero Ahola, explained how their food production technology can conveniently or automatically work in a facility instead of an agricultural setting.

“Compared to traditional agriculture, the production method currently under development does not require a location with the conditions for agriculture, such as the right temperature, humidity or a certain soil type. This allows us to use a completely automatized process to produce the animal feed required in a shipping container facility built on the farm”.

Electricity process producing single-cell protein

[Image Source: Lappeenranta University of Technology]

Furthermore, the bespoke method doesn’t use any formulated chemicals to get rid of pests as per the normal practice in most agricultural industries. Ahola noted the sustainable advantages of their developed process.

“The method requires no pest-control substances. Only the required amount of fertiliser-like nutrients are used in the closed process. This allows us to avoid any environmental impacts, such as runoffs into water systems or the formation of powerful greenhouse gases”.

The potential answer to the persistent issue of global hunger

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, a principal scientist at VTT, explained that their newly developed process could potentially be brought to barren areas around the world or be incorporated in a domestic setting. As long as renewable energy (solar energy) is available then the protein-based food can be produced.

“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine. One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein”.

According to Ahola, the mass application of the technological process of producing single-cell protein could only be executed if the economy favors for it.

“Control of the process involves adjustment and modeling of renewable energy so as to enable the microbes to grow as well as possible. The idea is to develop the concept into a mass product, with a price that drops as the technology becomes more common. The schedule for commercialisation depends on the economy”.

On top of the sustainable and convenient advantages of the procedure in development, the scientists also highlighted that the batch of single-cell protein food they produced is highly nutritious.

“The mixture is very nutritious, with more than 50 per cent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates”, said Pitkänen. “The rest is fats and nucleic acids. The consistency of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms used in the production”.

Sources: Lappeenranta University of Technology, VTT Technical Research Center of Finland

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