Articles, Blog

How Astronauts Could “Brew” Food From Waste | Lisa Dyson, PhD

October 2, 2019


Imagine with me if we’re all on a
spaceship on our way to Mars. So we’re all the crew in here.
Many things would have to be solved before we can take that journey. One of
the things that we’d have to figure out is how to recycle carbon. We are a
carbon-based life form, and we need carbon in order to survive. So the
scientists at NASA worked on this in the 60s and 70s during the space program and
came up with an interesting idea. They looked at using single-celled organisms –
microorganisms – as a way of recycling carbon onboard spacecraft using minimal
resources, minimal space, minimal water. And here’s how it would work: these
microorganisms are basically like microbial seeds, if you will, and they would capture carbon dioxide along with hydrogen from water, and
convert that into a nutritious food that the astronauts would eat like plants do.
And the astronauts would consume that, process the nutrients, and breathe out
the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, which the microbes would then capture
these seeds, and divide, and make more food, and so on. And so a closed-loop
carbon recycle could be created for us on our journey to Mars. So we have a lot
of carbon here on earth before we leave and go to Mars, and as we go from 7
billion people to 10 billion, we really must figure out a way to recycle our
carbon better. So a colleague of mine, Dr. John Reed, and I looked at this NASA work,
and we thought it was very fascinating, and we asked the question, “Can we take
this NASA concept using these single-cell organisms as seeds to
produce foods on a large scale here on earth?” And happily, we found that we could.
These microorganisms are natural, they’re in nature, and in the ecosystems where
they thrive, they are nature’s natural carbon recyclers. We’ll call them super
charged carbon recyclers. And we have been able to make something
amazing, a really nutritious protein – a protein flour, if you will – that has a
really high protein content, higher than most plant-based proteins, rich in all
the essential amino acids, rich in vitamins and minerals. And it can be used
to make a lot of different products. Beyond that, we can even make oils with
this type of technology. Something like a palm oil replacement, for instance, we
call it palm plus. Palm oil is an ingredient to many of our products that
we find on the shelves in our supermarkets from ingredients to
desserts, you know, cookies and ice cream, to an ingredient and pasta or cooking oil.
And right now, they remove a lot of virgin rainforests in order to make room
for palm plantations. So with this type of technology, you can use C02 to make a
palm oil replacement, instead of removing rainforests. So this may sound very
science fictiony as you said, but actually, who in here likes Pinot Noir?
Who in here likes beer? All right. A few people like yogurt? These are all the
products of microorganisms. From the beverage industry to food products, every
single spoonful of yogurt is a spoonful of microbes. We call them probiotics.
Sounds nice when you say it that way. But so at Kiverdi, we see an opportunity to
take food production using microorganisms to the next level. From
beer and wine and yogurt to proteins and oils. And we are commercializing our
first products that are protein based. We’re scaling up, we have projects that
we’re deploying in Canada and in Europe with commercial partners. We work with
large manufacturers who are the formulators that make the end products.
And let me tell you about some exciting products that you’ll see one day on the
shelves as we scale up this technology. So you can imagine having your meat-free
burger that has a low carbon footprint. As you know, modern agriculture, including
animal agriculture, is a large contributor to
greenhouse gases. In fact, modern ag contributes more greenhouse gases to the
atmosphere than our planes, our trains, our trucks, and our cars combined. So we can
have meat free protein products. You can also imagine having more things,
like protein enriched cereals, and of course, we can have protein bars, protein
shakes, lots of ways of getting protein from a sustainable source.
So we’re commercializing this technology now. And another reason why this is a
benefit, is that agriculture takes a lot of resources currently. In fact, an area
the size of South America and Africa combined has been cleared for modern
agriculture. So this is a challenge, and our technology can scale to produce
products in less time, as well as less land. And, in fact, 10,000 times less
land. So if you were to clear the size of Texas to plant soy beans, the equivalent
amount of protein that you get with this brewing, this CO2 brewing technology, you
could make protein with this technology. The same amount of land that
you’d need for soy, Texas, you would just look at an amusement park,
something like Walt Disney World. That’s the same the size that we would
need for the CO2 brewing technology. So as we go from 7 billion to 10 billion
people, we simply must do better. We must figure out a way to recycle carbon,
use less resources, less land. And I’m really excited to be a part of the
Unreasonable Group, and the Unreasonable fellows here. We’ve heard some amazing
technologies and businesses people are building to do that, and at
Kiverdi, we are a part of that solution as well, as we commercialize solutions to
recycle carbon to feed the world. Thank you.

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