Out of thin air: the drivers and applications of air-based protein

Out of thin air: the drivers and applications of air-based protein

By
Laura Robinson
June 23, 2020

Move over mushrooms. So long soya. Adieu algae. There’s a brand-new ingredient set to take over the plant-based protein scene. Air.

Yes, you read that correctly. The very air we breathe.

While researching how to sustain astronauts on long-distance missions, scientists made a handy discovery: microorganisms could capture the carbon dioxide exhaled by crew members and transform it into nutritious food.

Today, many experts see air-based foods as a game changer for those of us back here on Earth too. In autumn last year, US-based start-up, Air Protein, introduced the world’s first air-based meat. This month, they were recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the most promising technology pioneers of 2020. And after bagging €3.5 million in a Series A funding round last year, their European competitor, Solar Foods, is now on track for market launch in 2022.

But what exactly is air-based protein and how do the teams behind this innovative ingredient see it making its way into our favourite foods? Let’s delve a little deeper into how this space travel inspired product could be one meaty step forward for the food industry but an even larger leap for mankind.

From farming to fermentation: how to make air-based protein

Air-based protein companies use a closed loop carbon cycle to enable elements found in the air – including oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen – to be consumed by microbes. These elements are then converted into an edible product using renewable energy and a probiotic process. Apparently, it’s a bit like making yoghurt or beer.

Unlike traditional crops, air-based protein is ready to harvest in just a few days, rather than months. The resulting protein powder is rich in all nine amino acids, packed with vitamins and minerals – including B12 - and offers a similar nutritional profile to many animal-based products.

Drivers: affordable, sustainable protein with fewer resources

The FAO has calculated that farmers need to increase food production by 70% using only 5% more arable land to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population by 2050. Air-based food production allows us to create protein without the land, water and weather requirements of traditional agriculture - creating a more resilient and secure supply chain. Studies have also shown that it’s about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteins.

When it comes to demand, consumers’ obsession with protein shows no signs of waning. And air-based protein could tick a lot of their boxes. It’s clean label, being pesticide, herbicide, hormone and antibiotic-free. And experts claim that it will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035 - removing one of the key challenges that has plagued plant-based meat alternative companies.

Possible applications: additives, binders and meat alternatives

Air-based protein’s neutral taste and appearance means that manufacturers and the food service sector could use it in a number of different ways. Firstly, it could appear as an additive in staple food products, such as pasta, cereals, yoghurt and beverages, including plant-based dairy equivalents or protein shakes. With a few tweaks, the production process can create lauric acid, a binder that could replace heavily used but unsustainable ingredients like palm oil.

And then, of course, there are meat alternatives. Firstly, manufacturers can apply pressure, heat and different culinary techniques to transform the protein powder into a wide variety of plant-based products – from chicken and pork to seafood and beef. Air-based protein powder could also be used as a feedstock for lab-grown meat – another scientific breakthrough that’s quickly gaining traction.


Gearing up for product launch: Air Protein and Solar Foods

Dr Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein, has set herself an impressive mission: to help sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050. The team behind her startup – a spin-off of the sustainability company Kiverdi - has spent years refining the air-based protein production process. Now they’re getting ready to show the world just how versatile the range of applications can be. They’re looking to work with manufacturers, food service and retail partners to develop and bring to market a wide range of meat alternatives. Although the exact timescales are still under wraps, the company plans to launch in the US first, with a focus on products with a global appeal to enable them to scale quickly.

On the other side of the pond, Finnish air-based protein pioneers - Solar Foods - are developing their own go-to-market strategy. Founded in 2017, its pilot plant is now able to produce a kilo of protein powder a day, with a production cost of around $5-6 per kg of pure protein. After bagging a $3.5 million funding boost in 2019, the company entered into a strategic collaboration with the Fazer Group to strengthen their product development efforts. According to their ambitious company roadmap, they’re now planning to apply for EU novel food authorisation in 2021 and preparing for a full global commercial launch in 2022.

The next steps for air-based foods: scaling and approvals

Air-based foods offer huge potential to reframe the debate around CO2 – transforming it from a huge environmental challenge into an input and resource. And using the resulting product to replace some of the biggest climate offenders in our diet may just be the cherry on the cake.

That said, sector innovators still have a long journey ahead of them. Companies will need to make the successful transition from pilot plants to major commercial production. And getting regulatory approval to enable the products to be sold for human consumption can be a long and complex process.  

But if all goes well, all those meat lovers’ jokes about vegans subsisting on air may not have been so far off the mark. And a big, juicy air-based burger may well be landing on their dinner plates too in the not so distant future.


Business opportunities

  • Are you a European manufacturer, retailer or leading food service partner interested in positioning yourself at the cutting edge of meat 2.0? Solar Food plans to publish their list of initial launch partners in early 2021. So there’s still time to reach out and explore the benefits of a potential collaboration.
  • Is your food business active in the US market? Air Protein is looking for retailers, food service operators, chefs and manufacturers who share their values and would be interested in championing the future of meat as part of their US launch.

Written by
Laura Robinson

From policy geek to digital consultant, Laura has always enjoyed bringing people together through words or tools to drive positive change. She is most proud of finally taking the leap into entrepreneurship by founding Pink Pear Agency - a network of passionate specialists who help food businesses grow innovative projects and share their stories with the world. Laura is currently interested in project development and management, digital tools, content strategy and copywriting.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Get Event Discounts

Move over mushrooms. So long soya. Adieu algae. There’s a brand-new ingredient set to take over the plant-based protein scene. Air.

Yes, you read that correctly. The very air we breathe.

While researching how to sustain astronauts on long-distance missions, scientists made a handy discovery: microorganisms could capture the carbon dioxide exhaled by crew members and transform it into nutritious food.

Today, many experts see air-based foods as a game changer for those of us back here on Earth too. In autumn last year, US-based start-up, Air Protein, introduced the world’s first air-based meat. This month, they were recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the most promising technology pioneers of 2020. And after bagging €3.5 million in a Series A funding round last year, their European competitor, Solar Foods, is now on track for market launch in 2022.

But what exactly is air-based protein and how do the teams behind this innovative ingredient see it making its way into our favourite foods? Let’s delve a little deeper into how this space travel inspired product could be one meaty step forward for the food industry but an even larger leap for mankind.

From farming to fermentation: how to make air-based protein

Air-based protein companies use a closed loop carbon cycle to enable elements found in the air – including oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen – to be consumed by microbes. These elements are then converted into an edible product using renewable energy and a probiotic process. Apparently, it’s a bit like making yoghurt or beer.

Unlike traditional crops, air-based protein is ready to harvest in just a few days, rather than months. The resulting protein powder is rich in all nine amino acids, packed with vitamins and minerals – including B12 - and offers a similar nutritional profile to many animal-based products.

Drivers: affordable, sustainable protein with fewer resources

The FAO has calculated that farmers need to increase food production by 70% using only 5% more arable land to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population by 2050. Air-based food production allows us to create protein without the land, water and weather requirements of traditional agriculture - creating a more resilient and secure supply chain. Studies have also shown that it’s about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteins.

When it comes to demand, consumers’ obsession with protein shows no signs of waning. And air-based protein could tick a lot of their boxes. It’s clean label, being pesticide, herbicide, hormone and antibiotic-free. And experts claim that it will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035 - removing one of the key challenges that has plagued plant-based meat alternative companies.

Possible applications: additives, binders and meat alternatives

Air-based protein’s neutral taste and appearance means that manufacturers and the food service sector could use it in a number of different ways. Firstly, it could appear as an additive in staple food products, such as pasta, cereals, yoghurt and beverages, including plant-based dairy equivalents or protein shakes. With a few tweaks, the production process can create lauric acid, a binder that could replace heavily used but unsustainable ingredients like palm oil.

And then, of course, there are meat alternatives. Firstly, manufacturers can apply pressure, heat and different culinary techniques to transform the protein powder into a wide variety of plant-based products – from chicken and pork to seafood and beef. Air-based protein powder could also be used as a feedstock for lab-grown meat – another scientific breakthrough that’s quickly gaining traction.


Gearing up for product launch: Air Protein and Solar Foods

Dr Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein, has set herself an impressive mission: to help sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050. The team behind her startup – a spin-off of the sustainability company Kiverdi - has spent years refining the air-based protein production process. Now they’re getting ready to show the world just how versatile the range of applications can be. They’re looking to work with manufacturers, food service and retail partners to develop and bring to market a wide range of meat alternatives. Although the exact timescales are still under wraps, the company plans to launch in the US first, with a focus on products with a global appeal to enable them to scale quickly.

On the other side of the pond, Finnish air-based protein pioneers - Solar Foods - are developing their own go-to-market strategy. Founded in 2017, its pilot plant is now able to produce a kilo of protein powder a day, with a production cost of around $5-6 per kg of pure protein. After bagging a $3.5 million funding boost in 2019, the company entered into a strategic collaboration with the Fazer Group to strengthen their product development efforts. According to their ambitious company roadmap, they’re now planning to apply for EU novel food authorisation in 2021 and preparing for a full global commercial launch in 2022.

The next steps for air-based foods: scaling and approvals

Air-based foods offer huge potential to reframe the debate around CO2 – transforming it from a huge environmental challenge into an input and resource. And using the resulting product to replace some of the biggest climate offenders in our diet may just be the cherry on the cake.

That said, sector innovators still have a long journey ahead of them. Companies will need to make the successful transition from pilot plants to major commercial production. And getting regulatory approval to enable the products to be sold for human consumption can be a long and complex process.  

But if all goes well, all those meat lovers’ jokes about vegans subsisting on air may not have been so far off the mark. And a big, juicy air-based burger may well be landing on their dinner plates too in the not so distant future.


Business opportunities

  • Are you a European manufacturer, retailer or leading food service partner interested in positioning yourself at the cutting edge of meat 2.0? Solar Food plans to publish their list of initial launch partners in early 2021. So there’s still time to reach out and explore the benefits of a potential collaboration.
  • Is your food business active in the US market? Air Protein is looking for retailers, food service operators, chefs and manufacturers who share their values and would be interested in championing the future of meat as part of their US launch.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Join a Global Community
UPGRADE NOW
Cancel anytime

Move over mushrooms. So long soya. Adieu algae. There’s a brand-new ingredient set to take over the plant-based protein scene. Air.

Yes, you read that correctly. The very air we breathe.

While researching how to sustain astronauts on long-distance missions, scientists made a handy discovery: microorganisms could capture the carbon dioxide exhaled by crew members and transform it into nutritious food.

Today, many experts see air-based foods as a game changer for those of us back here on Earth too. In autumn last year, US-based start-up, Air Protein, introduced the world’s first air-based meat. This month, they were recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the most promising technology pioneers of 2020. And after bagging €3.5 million in a Series A funding round last year, their European competitor, Solar Foods, is now on track for market launch in 2022.

But what exactly is air-based protein and how do the teams behind this innovative ingredient see it making its way into our favourite foods? Let’s delve a little deeper into how this space travel inspired product could be one meaty step forward for the food industry but an even larger leap for mankind.

From farming to fermentation: how to make air-based protein

Air-based protein companies use a closed loop carbon cycle to enable elements found in the air – including oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen – to be consumed by microbes. These elements are then converted into an edible product using renewable energy and a probiotic process. Apparently, it’s a bit like making yoghurt or beer.

Unlike traditional crops, air-based protein is ready to harvest in just a few days, rather than months. The resulting protein powder is rich in all nine amino acids, packed with vitamins and minerals – including B12 - and offers a similar nutritional profile to many animal-based products.

Drivers: affordable, sustainable protein with fewer resources

The FAO has calculated that farmers need to increase food production by 70% using only 5% more arable land to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population by 2050. Air-based food production allows us to create protein without the land, water and weather requirements of traditional agriculture - creating a more resilient and secure supply chain. Studies have also shown that it’s about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteins.

When it comes to demand, consumers’ obsession with protein shows no signs of waning. And air-based protein could tick a lot of their boxes. It’s clean label, being pesticide, herbicide, hormone and antibiotic-free. And experts claim that it will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035 - removing one of the key challenges that has plagued plant-based meat alternative companies.

Possible applications: additives, binders and meat alternatives

Air-based protein’s neutral taste and appearance means that manufacturers and the food service sector could use it in a number of different ways. Firstly, it could appear as an additive in staple food products, such as pasta, cereals, yoghurt and beverages, including plant-based dairy equivalents or protein shakes. With a few tweaks, the production process can create lauric acid, a binder that could replace heavily used but unsustainable ingredients like palm oil.

And then, of course, there are meat alternatives. Firstly, manufacturers can apply pressure, heat and different culinary techniques to transform the protein powder into a wide variety of plant-based products – from chicken and pork to seafood and beef. Air-based protein powder could also be used as a feedstock for lab-grown meat – another scientific breakthrough that’s quickly gaining traction.


Gearing up for product launch: Air Protein and Solar Foods

Dr Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein, has set herself an impressive mission: to help sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050. The team behind her startup – a spin-off of the sustainability company Kiverdi - has spent years refining the air-based protein production process. Now they’re getting ready to show the world just how versatile the range of applications can be. They’re looking to work with manufacturers, food service and retail partners to develop and bring to market a wide range of meat alternatives. Although the exact timescales are still under wraps, the company plans to launch in the US first, with a focus on products with a global appeal to enable them to scale quickly.

On the other side of the pond, Finnish air-based protein pioneers - Solar Foods - are developing their own go-to-market strategy. Founded in 2017, its pilot plant is now able to produce a kilo of protein powder a day, with a production cost of around $5-6 per kg of pure protein. After bagging a $3.5 million funding boost in 2019, the company entered into a strategic collaboration with the Fazer Group to strengthen their product development efforts. According to their ambitious company roadmap, they’re now planning to apply for EU novel food authorisation in 2021 and preparing for a full global commercial launch in 2022.

The next steps for air-based foods: scaling and approvals

Air-based foods offer huge potential to reframe the debate around CO2 – transforming it from a huge environmental challenge into an input and resource. And using the resulting product to replace some of the biggest climate offenders in our diet may just be the cherry on the cake.

That said, sector innovators still have a long journey ahead of them. Companies will need to make the successful transition from pilot plants to major commercial production. And getting regulatory approval to enable the products to be sold for human consumption can be a long and complex process.  

But if all goes well, all those meat lovers’ jokes about vegans subsisting on air may not have been so far off the mark. And a big, juicy air-based burger may well be landing on their dinner plates too in the not so distant future.


Business opportunities

  • Are you a European manufacturer, retailer or leading food service partner interested in positioning yourself at the cutting edge of meat 2.0? Solar Food plans to publish their list of initial launch partners in early 2021. So there’s still time to reach out and explore the benefits of a potential collaboration.
  • Is your food business active in the US market? Air Protein is looking for retailers, food service operators, chefs and manufacturers who share their values and would be interested in championing the future of meat as part of their US launch.

Move over mushrooms. So long soya. Adieu algae. There’s a brand-new ingredient set to take over the plant-based protein scene. Air.

Yes, you read that correctly. The very air we breathe.

While researching how to sustain astronauts on long-distance missions, scientists made a handy discovery: microorganisms could capture the carbon dioxide exhaled by crew members and transform it into nutritious food.

Today, many experts see air-based foods as a game changer for those of us back here on Earth too. In autumn last year, US-based start-up, Air Protein, introduced the world’s first air-based meat. This month, they were recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the most promising technology pioneers of 2020. And after bagging €3.5 million in a Series A funding round last year, their European competitor, Solar Foods, is now on track for market launch in 2022.

But what exactly is air-based protein and how do the teams behind this innovative ingredient see it making its way into our favourite foods? Let’s delve a little deeper into how this space travel inspired product could be one meaty step forward for the food industry but an even larger leap for mankind.

From farming to fermentation: how to make air-based protein

Air-based protein companies use a closed loop carbon cycle to enable elements found in the air – including oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen – to be consumed by microbes. These elements are then converted into an edible product using renewable energy and a probiotic process. Apparently, it’s a bit like making yoghurt or beer.

Unlike traditional crops, air-based protein is ready to harvest in just a few days, rather than months. The resulting protein powder is rich in all nine amino acids, packed with vitamins and minerals – including B12 - and offers a similar nutritional profile to many animal-based products.

Drivers: affordable, sustainable protein with fewer resources

The FAO has calculated that farmers need to increase food production by 70% using only 5% more arable land to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population by 2050. Air-based food production allows us to create protein without the land, water and weather requirements of traditional agriculture - creating a more resilient and secure supply chain. Studies have also shown that it’s about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteins.

When it comes to demand, consumers’ obsession with protein shows no signs of waning. And air-based protein could tick a lot of their boxes. It’s clean label, being pesticide, herbicide, hormone and antibiotic-free. And experts claim that it will be around 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035 - removing one of the key challenges that has plagued plant-based meat alternative companies.

Possible applications: additives, binders and meat alternatives

Air-based protein’s neutral taste and appearance means that manufacturers and the food service sector could use it in a number of different ways. Firstly, it could appear as an additive in staple food products, such as pasta, cereals, yoghurt and beverages, including plant-based dairy equivalents or protein shakes. With a few tweaks, the production process can create lauric acid, a binder that could replace heavily used but unsustainable ingredients like palm oil.

And then, of course, there are meat alternatives. Firstly, manufacturers can apply pressure, heat and different culinary techniques to transform the protein powder into a wide variety of plant-based products – from chicken and pork to seafood and beef. Air-based protein powder could also be used as a feedstock for lab-grown meat – another scientific breakthrough that’s quickly gaining traction.


Gearing up for product launch: Air Protein and Solar Foods

Dr Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein, has set herself an impressive mission: to help sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050. The team behind her startup – a spin-off of the sustainability company Kiverdi - has spent years refining the air-based protein production process. Now they’re getting ready to show the world just how versatile the range of applications can be. They’re looking to work with manufacturers, food service and retail partners to develop and bring to market a wide range of meat alternatives. Although the exact timescales are still under wraps, the company plans to launch in the US first, with a focus on products with a global appeal to enable them to scale quickly.

On the other side of the pond, Finnish air-based protein pioneers - Solar Foods - are developing their own go-to-market strategy. Founded in 2017, its pilot plant is now able to produce a kilo of protein powder a day, with a production cost of around $5-6 per kg of pure protein. After bagging a $3.5 million funding boost in 2019, the company entered into a strategic collaboration with the Fazer Group to strengthen their product development efforts. According to their ambitious company roadmap, they’re now planning to apply for EU novel food authorisation in 2021 and preparing for a full global commercial launch in 2022.

The next steps for air-based foods: scaling and approvals

Air-based foods offer huge potential to reframe the debate around CO2 – transforming it from a huge environmental challenge into an input and resource. And using the resulting product to replace some of the biggest climate offenders in our diet may just be the cherry on the cake.

That said, sector innovators still have a long journey ahead of them. Companies will need to make the successful transition from pilot plants to major commercial production. And getting regulatory approval to enable the products to be sold for human consumption can be a long and complex process.  

But if all goes well, all those meat lovers’ jokes about vegans subsisting on air may not have been so far off the mark. And a big, juicy air-based burger may well be landing on their dinner plates too in the not so distant future.


Business opportunities

  • Are you a European manufacturer, retailer or leading food service partner interested in positioning yourself at the cutting edge of meat 2.0? Solar Food plans to publish their list of initial launch partners in early 2021. So there’s still time to reach out and explore the benefits of a potential collaboration.
  • Is your food business active in the US market? Air Protein is looking for retailers, food service operators, chefs and manufacturers who share their values and would be interested in championing the future of meat as part of their US launch.