Out of thin air

Petri dish
Lab-grown food can be ‘made from air’ – but is there appetite for synthetic protein?


A new protein gown from soil bacteria and fed on hydrogen split from water by electricity has been created by a Cranfield University graduate which could completely revolutionise the global food industry. 

Pasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods in Finland, studied at Cranfield and predicts that the product could cost the same as soya by the end of the decade.

The protein flour, called Solein, is tasteless and could be used in bread, pasta, ice cream and sauces. It could also be used as animal feed to save them eating imported soya grown on rainforest land.

New solutions

Professor Leon Terry, Director of Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University, said that the interest in synthetic food is growing but questions remain over its adoption by consumers: “There is increased momentum and private investment around synthetic foods, with lots of positive promises made.

"But two issues remain: has proper life cycle analysis been done? And is there really an appetite for their consumption?

“We have seen new technology provide new food solutions before that the public have struggled to accept such as genetically modified crops.

"The bigger opportunity could be in using synthetic protein as an alternative livestock feed.”

More evaluation

Dr Adrian Williams, Reader in the School of Water, Energy and Environment said the technology is promising, and more evaluation would be useful: “This is a very promising technology that contrasts with established fungal proteins that use plant based materials as substrates instead of atmospheric CO2.

"A key limit is the availability of renewable electricity for producing the hydrogen that is essential to the production process. It still requires minerals and infrastructure for its production.

“The novel protein should be evaluated with a prospective consequential life cycle assessment to quantify its net environmental benefits under different scenarios.”

This Article 

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Cranfield University. 

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