Start-Up Company Is Trying to Make Steaks from Thin Air

by Clayton Edwards

Most of us can agree that beef is delicious. From streaks and pot roasts to burgers and burritos, Beef is at the center of some of the best foods on Earth. However, there are some environmental downsides to beef. Chief among those are the environmental impacts of commercial cattle farming. Raising enough cattle to feed the world takes up millions of acres of pasture land. More than that, raising all of those cows for burgers and steaks adds some serious pollution to the air. With more beef lovers born every day, that pollution is only going to get worse. As a result, countless companies have started working on beef alternatives.

Air Protein is one of those companies. Physicist Lisa Dyson and materials scientist John Reed started the company as part of their overall mission to curb climate change. With Air Protein, Reed and Dyson plan to create steaks and other meat from thin air, according to Wired.

It all started when Dyson and Reed were working together at the Department of Energy’s Berkley Lab with the goal of curbing climate change. After some research, they realized that looking at food production would be a great start. The agriculture industry produces one-fourth of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more all of our modes of transportation combined. The commercial meat industry makes up the majority of those emissions.

Currently, we eat about 386 million tons of meat every year. That number will continue to grow with the global population. Right now, we’re sitting at about 7.9 billion people. Experts estimate that we’ll be at more than 10 billion by 2050. Reed and Dyson are not alone in the notion that we won’t be able to sustainably farm enough meat for all of those people. That’s why they’re looking to renewable resources that they can literally pull from the air to make steaks and other meats.

Air Protein: Pulling Steaks, Fish, and Other Meat from Thin Air

Dyson and Reed were unsure how they would go about creating meat alternatives until they came across some NASA research from the sixties. One document discussed combining microbes with carbon dioxide to create food for long space journeys. Dyson and Reed latched on to this idea. Before long, they had a plan to create fish, pork, steaks, and other protein from thin air. “We picked up where they left off,” Dyson told Wired.

They didn’t start with meat, though. In 2008, the duo used the NASA research to develop a process that turned recycled carbon dioxide and microbes into palm oil and citrus oil. Thus, their first venture, Kiverdi, was born.

Eleven years later, Reed and Dyson decided to kick things up a notch. It was time to develop a way to create microbe-based protein. However, they’re not growing sides of beef or salmon filets in their labs.

Air Protein grows hydrogenotrophic microbes in fermentation tanks. They feed those microbes a mixture of carbon dioxide, oxygen, water, nitrogen, and minerals. Their process isn’t much different than the fermentation process used to create beer or yogurt. This process creates a protein-rich flour. That flour’s amino acid profile is similar to what is found in meat.

So, it’s more accurate to say that they create a protein-rich flour out of thin air and turn it into steaks. About the final transformation process, Dyson told Wired, “We just add culinary techniques that give you the different textures you’re looking for.”

The Benefits of Air Protein’s Meat Alternatives

Reed and Dyson hit the nail on the head when they came up with Air Protein. The duo wanted to curb climate change. The best way to do that is to reduce carbon emissions. Air Protein is actually carbon-negative. Not only does the process not create carbon emissions but it also pulls carbon from the air. In the future, they hope to do so on a larger scale. Additionally, they use 1.5 million times less land than beef production and 15,000 times less water.

Dyson and Reed also hope to make their lab-created meat more affordable than their competition. If you’ve looked at the big-name meat alternatives out there, you know that they’re way beyond the price of meat and nearly impossible to work into a small budget. “Our technology will enable us to not only be cost-effective from the beginning but also to have a cost structure that continues to go down, “ Dyson.

Right now, there’s no word on when Air Protein’s steaks and other meats will be available in your local supermarket. But, it looks like it could be soon. Keep an eye on their website for updates.