World Hunger's Days Are Numbered, Scientists Have Created Food From The Most Unlikely Source!

Posted by Teresa Thomerson in Science and Technology On 6th August 2017

People in the world are dying from hunger every day, too bad we can't whip up some food from out of thin air... or can we? Scientists from teams at the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland put their heads together and have a definite answer for us.

#1 People are starving, but what does that actually mean?

You know there are people starving to death in the world. Turn on a television and you'll see the commercials. Chances are you've heard or even said this phrase to a child you know; "Be grateful for the food you're eating, people are starving in the world." What you don't know is that there are two different types of hunger in the world. The first and most important is protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). It boils down to a lack of calories and protein. The second is type of malnutrition, also very important, is micro-nutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. When the subject of world hunger comes up it's almost always the protein-energy malnutrition that is being addressed.

Interestingly enough, as you can see in the handy-dandy chart above, the world actually does produce enough traditional food sources to feed everyone currently in the world. Yet, World Hunger still exists due to poverty. People just don't have the money or land to feed themselves. It's an evil loop there. It takes space and materials to actually have food. That's where these scientists come in.

#2 The Food From Electricity study was born!

Funded by the Academy of Finland, the Food from Electricity study was formed from the collaborations of researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). These amazing scientists saw a problem and the solution, right in front of them and are rising to the challenge.

Jero Ahola of LUT, seen above, and Juha-Pekka Pitkänen of VTT have spoken with the media on the results of the project. Here's what they've come up with.

#3 It's in the air.

That's right. The food, especially the protein, that the world needs is right in front of us. Now, the air is made up of a ton of different gasses and microbes, the specific gas they are talking about is carbon dioxide. It's the same gas that plants use in the photosynthesis. In fact, the researchers imply the process of creating food from electricity can be nearly 10 times as energy efficient as photosynthesis.

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT had this to add. "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."

#4 How did they do it?

Well, first let's take a look at the ingredients they need to pull this off: electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and microbes. Yes, microbes, those little itty-bitty organisms that you can't see with your naked eye and are literally everywhere. The researchers used renewable energy (solar, wind powered, hydro, etc) to power their bioreactor. You can see the simplified diagram of the reactor, below.

#5 Each bioreacter is about at big as a coffee pot.

Now that you have everything in place, you apply your electricity. Get your Frankenstein on, electrocute it! Ok, so not everyone goes for the the mad scientist reference, let's dial it back and use the proper term for applying electricity in a controlled manner and go with electrolysis. Now we have a fine powder that consists of more than 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates.

"In the long term, protein created with electricity is meant to be used in cooking and products as it is. The mixture is very nutritious, with more than 50 per cent protein and 25 percent carbohydrates. The rest is fats and nucleic acids. The consistency of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms used in the production."

-Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT

#6 The possiblities for this are astronomical.

A protein powder that's made from completely renewable resources from a machine that can fit in on your kitchen counter is here. It can go almost anywhere. Don't have enough land or space to farm? Here you go. Think of all the work and hardships that happen when farming. A disease wipes out your chickens, a drought kills all your animal fodder and animals, the soil lacks the necessary nutrients to grow your crops; what do you do then? Here you have an option to fill that need.

Now lets think a little less immediately, what about the future? This discovery, this process, has the possibility of feeding people on spaceships. We know that Elon Musk is working to get to Mars, an invention like this could make getting there and colonizing it vastly easier.

"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. The method requires no pest-control substances. Only the required amount of fertilizer-like nutrients is 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."

-Jero Ahola, a Professor at LUT

#7 However, nothing is perfect.

The first and biggest problem is that it takes two weeks to be able to produce 1 gram of protein powder. While it's still ten times more efficient that photosynthesis, it's just not ready to produce at the large scale the world needs in order to feed it's people. Problem number 2, it's also caught up in the red tape of the legal systems and commercial world.

“We are currently focusing on developing the technology: reactor concepts, technology, improving efficiency, and controlling the process. Maybe 10 years is a realistic timeframe for reaching commercial capacity, in terms of the necessary legislation and process technology.”

-Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT

#8 Overall, this is still exciting.

Air, water, microbes and electricity may hold the future answer to wiping out hunger. Who wouldn't be excited to achieve that in their lifetime?

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