Single cell protein produced by food bio-reactor. Image credit: JAA TÄMÄ KUVA

If the idea of personalized food fabrication using bionsensors and 3D food printers isn’t enough to blow your mind, what about home food reactors that make food using only electricity, carbon dioxide and organisms from the air we breathe?

If researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have any say in the matter, some day we may have just that.

That’s because the joint study group has successfully produced single cell protein in the lab using only water, electricity, carbon dioxide and small organisms obtained from the environment. The end result is a breakthrough that, if commercialized, could result in solar powered home food reactors that produce protein and carb-packed food.

The idea of creating food from essentially nothing is both mind-bending and potentially world-changing. And while I would love to have a food reactor in my home that could produce interesting food with practically zero inputs besides electricity and air, the biggest implications are clearly for those areas of the world facing significant resource challenges.

“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air,”said Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT. “In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine.”

The process and the resulting protein could be used to produce food for both humans and livestock.

“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,” said Professor Jero Ahola of LUT. “This allows us to use a completely automatised process to produce the animal feed required in a shipping container facility built on the farm.”

Lab equipment used to create single cell protein from electricity, carbon dioxide and microbes. Image Credit: JAA TÄMÄ KUVA

The researchers plan to take what they’ve done in the lab and move it into pilot production that produces larger quantities of food products to enable testing. Once that is achieved, they believe the concept could be commercialized.

“The idea is to develop the concept into a mass product, with a price that drops as the technology becomes more common,” said Ahola.

And how soon until food reactors make their way into our homes?

“Maybe 10 years is a realistic timeframe for reaching commercial capacity, in terms of the necessary legislation and process technology,” said Pitkänen.

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