Today ADM announced a partnership with Air Protein, a company developing technology to make protein out of thin air, using carbon dioxide as a feedstock.
According to the announcement, the two companies have entered a Strategic Development Agreement (SDA) to advance the development and production of this protein that can be developed without arable land. The agreement leverages ADM’s expertise in nutrition and research and Air Protein’s protein production technology to expand the protein ecosystem and deliver sustainable, cost-effective ingredients for meat substitutes. The two companies will collaborate to build the first commercial-scale production facility for air protein.
The foundation of Air Protein’s protein production methodology (sometimes referred to as gas fermentation) was developed in the 1960s as NASA explored ways to produce food in space. While the technology was shelved for decades, it has been dusted off in recent years as a new cohort of startups has started to explore new ways to create proteins more sustainably.
One of the problems often cited in the alt protein space is an over-reliance on glucose as a feedstock, and many see the development of lower-cost and more sustainable feedstocks as necessary for the continued growth of the industry. Air protein and other companies using gas fermentation technology leverage single-cell organisms to convert CO2 into protein, opening the door to a possibly more sustainable method for fueling future growth in alternative proteins.
Another benefit of gas fermentation is that it disconnects protein production from arable land. Many developing economies neither have arable farmland nor resources to produce cheap and abundant protein; this technology could provide a pathway to produce protein in emerging markets.
Given the company’s size and importance in the global food supply chain, ADM’s entry into the air protein space could be a further validation of this nascent technology. One has to wonder if ADM’s stamp of approval will spur further interest in the technology across the food value chain, encouraging other big food system players to partner with some of the other companies in this space, which include Solar Foods, Deep Branch Biotechnology, and Air Company.