NASA-based technology is being used to turn carbon dioxide into food and bio-based products. The sustainability tech company Kiverdi, in California, is using the tech to create the world’s first “air-based meat”. It could also help sustainably feed the aquaculture industry – and make plastic more biodegradable, contributing to the circular economy.
Can you make food from thin air?
NASA asked the same question in the 1960s. And the challenge of feeding a year-long space mission led to a remarkable discovery: when astronauts exhale, the carbon dioxide in their breath can be captured by a special class of microbes – and potentially turned into nutrients.
Now an American company has taken this technology and converted CO₂ into food and bio-based products.
These are natural single-cell organisms that act like plants in the way in which they convert carbon dioxide into food.
Air Protein, a Kiverdi spin-off company, has created the world’s first air-derived meat using this method.
Produced “without the traditional land, water and weather requirements,” Air Protein says, the meat can be made “in a matter of days instead of months … and requires just a tiny fraction of the land used in traditional meat production”. The company compares the process to that of making yoghurt or beer and says it addresses the global need for producing more food using less land.
With 36 billion tonnes of CO₂ emitted globally every year, the company says it knows its work is just beginning.
“It is not just about reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” says Lisa Dyson, chief executive of Kiverdi, “but also leading a new era of sustainable production on how food and everyday products are made, to support a growing population.”
Some of those everyday products include Revive Soil, which turns CO₂ from the air into organic crop nutrients, and CO₂ Aquafeed, which converts CO₂ into an alternative, sustainable form of fish feed – avoiding the need to produce fishmeal using 15 million tonnes of wild-caught fish a year.
Kiverdi is also developing Reverse Plastics, which uses the technology to turn plastic waste into a range of biodegradable materials.
Towards a circular economy
Kiverdi is a member of the Circulars Accelerator cohort. This is an initiative to help entrepreneurs scale innovations that will help the world move towards a circular economy – in which waste is eliminated and resources are used again and again.
The accelerator is a collaboration with UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform, and is led by professional services company Accenture in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab and Schneider Electric.
UpLink hopes to accelerate the delivery of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include ending poverty and hunger and combating climate change by 2030.
This article was first published by the World Economic Forum.