Air Farming: Solar Method Could Produce 10x More Food, Save Environment

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Scientists say a method of using carbon dioxide, solar power and microbes could produce 10 times the amount of protein derived from plants using a tenth of the land while having “very beneficial impacts on the environment.”

Food from air: 10x the food could be produced from microbes and solar

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not. This method has already been in use, which utilizes solar power to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals for growing bacteria that is edible, New Scientist reported.

The concept of bacteria into food isn’t new, either. Microbes are already used in making many of the foods we commonly consume such as bread, yogurt, and beer.

The study found that the “air farming” system could produce ten times the amount of protein of plants. Additionally, the study found that even in countries that had relatively low levels of sunlight, such as the UK, microbial protein production was at least five times greater from each hectare than plants.

How it works

Electricity from solar panels and carbon dioxide taken from the air are used to create fuel from microbes. These are grown in bioreactor vats and then processed into dry protein powders, the Guardian reported. The system turns this into simple compounds, such as formate, which bacteria can feed on.

The system has several advantages. First, this process of food production is highly efficient, using much less land, water, and fertilizer. Secondly, it isn’t reliant on fertile soils or strong sunshine. These systems can be deployed anywhere, scientists say.

About the study and its results

Dorian Leger from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam, Germany, led the new analysis. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“This could have very beneficial impacts on the environment,” Leger said. “If you have 10 square kilometers of soya bean fields in the Amazon, hypothetically you could make that 1 square kilometer of solar panels and reforest the other nine.”

Impacts on the environment and malnourished populations

As scientists are concerned that food security will be a “critical issue” for humanity in coming decades, producing food from her could be lifesaving for the 800 million people who are already undernourished today. Further, it could provide an important factor in tackling climate change, as having an impact on the environment will be nearly impossible without slashing emissions from food production, especially animal and dairy foods.

Several companies already producing food from air

Several companies already use such air farming systems, but in the latest research scientists focused on conducting the most detailed analysis to date, in order to be able to compare “air farming” to conventional farming in terms of yields and land use. At least a dozen companies already use microbes to produce food for animals. But one company, Solar Foods of Finland, is using electricity to create food for humans and aims to have a demonstration plant running in 2023.