The highly industrialized methods of modern food production contribute significantly to environmental strain, accounting for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, it is vital to develop sustainable solutions for food systems. IDTechEx has recently examined three emerging technologies with the potential to transform food production and make it more sustainable: cultured meat, vertical farming, and CO2 microbial conversion.
Cultured meat production, which involves the in vitro growth of animal cells, is an innovative field that could help reduce methane emissions associated with meat production. The industry is predicted to be worth $14 billion by 2043, according to IDTechEx’s latest report, “Cultured Meat 2023-2043”, which has significant environmental benefits. It requires up to 95% less land and 96% less water than traditional livestock farming and could alleviate deforestation and antibiotic overuse. However, determining the carbon impact of cultured meat production remains challenging due to its significant energy requirements and lack of large-scale operations.
Vertical farming, the process of growing crops in modular stacks indoors under controlled environmental conditions, is another emerging technology that could improve agriculture’s sustainability. This method uses advanced growing techniques, such as hydroponics and LED lighting, to yield hundreds of times higher per land area than conventional agriculture.
Using over 90% less water than conventional farming and taking up less space, vertical farming has clear sustainability benefits. However, similar to cultured meat production, vertical farming requires much more electricity. Many vertical farming companies are exploring using solar energy and other renewables to improve sustainability. As LED efficiency increases, energy demand for vertical farming will decrease, further enhancing its sustainability. The IDTechEx report “Vertical Farming 2022-2032” notes that the sector received $1 billion in investments in 2021.
CO2 Microbial Conversion
Carbon dioxide Utilization (CO2U) technologies, which repurpose anthropogenic CO2 to produce value-added products, have gained momentum as crucial decarbonization tools. IDTechEx’s “Carbon Dioxide Utilization 2022-2042: Technologies, Market Forecasts, and Players” report predicts the CO2U market will exceed $285 billion by 2042. A fascinating aspect of CO2U technology is microbial conversion, which uses hydrogenotrophic bacteria to convert CO2 into food-grade protein.
Finnish start-up Solar Foods produces Solein, a protein powder created from gas fermentation of CO2 and H2. This powder can be added to bread, pasta, and meat alternatives. CO2 microbial conversion-based proteins are versatile, nutritious, and can act as a carbon sink, offering a valuable solution for environmentally- and health-conscious consumers. However, the sustainability of this process depends on the energy source and the sustainability of other raw materials, such as H2.