Sustainability Environment

What is ‘air meat’ and why will we soon be eating it?

Meat alternative made out of thin air
Air Protein

Story at a glance

  • A new meat alternative is (almost) made out of thin air.
  • The company, Air Protein, uses microbes to create edible protein powder.
  • Other companies are also developing futuristic, microbe-generated foods.

A California-based startup is using microbes first discovered by NASA to make a new meat alternative out of thin air. The “air meat” is made of proteins that the microbes make using carbon dioxide pulled from the air, a process similar to the one used by plants. The proteins come in the form of a powder that could replace the soy or pea proteins used in other meat alternatives, the Guardian reports

The company, called Air Protein, says its process will be easier on the Earth than soy and other crops that supply plant-based proteins. Air Protein’s process requires 1,000 times less water and land than soybean cultivation, its CEO told the San Francisco Chronicle.

NASA discovered the protein-producing microbes Air Protein is using while researching how to grow food for astronauts on long space voyages in the 1960s. The microbes NASA found are called hydrogenotrophs, and they produce a flavorless, pale-brown powder that is about 80 percent protein. 

The powder isn’t going to rival existing products like the Impossible Burger on its own, but Air Protein plans to blend it with other ingredients to create meat substitutes as well as other foods like energy bars. The company hopes to get a product to customers next year. 

Air Protein isn’t alone. A Finnish company called Solar Foods is using a similar process with a different kind of microbe — one that produces a mixture of proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Another startup, called Calaysta, is working on a microbe-produced protein product that can be used to make feed for fish, livestock and pets.