California-based startup Air Protein developed an alt meat called Air Meat, which is made using microbes that turn recycled carbon dioxide (CO2) into protein. Described by the company as “the meat of tomorrow,” Air Meat was designed to replicate the flavor and texture of real meat products like chicken, pork, steak and seafood. So, how does the company make alt protein out of thin air?
Inspired by old NASA research, which focused on innovative ways to feed astronauts on long space missions, the startup uses microbes to recycle old factory CO2 emissions and combine them with water and energy to create protein. After that, in a process like beer fermentation, the protein is turned into a flour-like substance. Then, oils, nutrients and flavorings are added to turn that powder into the final product: Air Meat.
“Air fermentation begins with the same building blocks that all plant life needs to grow — air, water and renewable energy,” according to Air Protein’s website. “Elements of the air are whisked together with our cultures until they produce protein within a matter of hours — a process similar to how yogurt, cheese and wine are made. The protein that the cultures produce is harvested and purified, then dried to remove water.”
The alt meat sector has come a long way since soy was being used as the go-to source of protein. Now, as the sector booms, food scientists can take all manner of ingredients, including fungi, peas, sunflowers and even cells from living animals, and create realistic-tasting, plant-based or animal-free meat products.
Air Protein is among several companies, including Finland-based Solar Foods, that are making meat and dairy alternatives from captured emissions in a bid to mitigate the climate impact of agriculture. Air Meat requires zero arable land to produce, and only needs recycled and purified CO2 in addition to other elements found in the air, renewable energy, water and minerals. Those are then fed to a culture to nourish and grow protein, which involves no greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
According to Air Protein’s founder, Lisa Dyson, the company is driven by an impact-focused mission to transform the food system. The animal agriculture industry not only slaughters billions of animals, but also contributes around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions and destroys rainforests. Not only does Air Meat use 524,000 times less land and 112,000 times less water per kilogram than traditional meat production, but it also takes considerably less time.
Founded in 2019, Air Protein already has big names backing the brand, and has received nearly $33 million in investments during a Series A funding round led by ADM Ventures, Barclays and Google Ventures (GV). Air Protein has won numerous awards including the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Innovation Award and the Davos World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer Award.
Although Air Protein is not yet available at retailers across the US, the brand promises consumers that the launch will take place soon, as the company scales up production to meet expected demand. In the future, the company plans to use direct air capture units to remove CO2 directly from the air.