The number of existential threats to our planet seems to grow almost daily.
Indeed, when the renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking made the frankly terrifying prediction that humankind would need to pack up its belongings and leave planet Earth within the next 100 years – a virtual waft of a butterfly’s wings in evolutionary terms – he cited several threats that are likely to bring about the end of life as we know it.
They are varied, of course; overpopulation, worldwide epidemic and nuclear war are all factors of daily concern for those in power, as is the growing concern over a breed of superbugs that could prove impervious to antibiotics.
Hunger, though, is an immediate threat to the lives of millions all over the world, and has been for a long time.
While benevolent charity appeals and generous public donations have sought to redress the balance between the incredibly wealthy and the destitute, it is clear that acts of kindness in isolation are simply not enough. Indeed a comprehensive solution has seemed unattainable, so deep-rooted and widespread is the problem of starvation. A stunning new scientific discovery, though, is thought to have the potential to significantly impact the issue.
Funded by the Academy of Finland, the Food From Electricity study was established with a heady aim, writes the Independent: to solve world hunger.
Researchers believe they have been successful in building a “protein reactor”, which takes carbon dioxide from the air and creates protein. Scientists say that the reactor could be used anywhere in the world with electricity, as Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, a researcher VTT Technical Research Centre explains;
“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine.
“One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein.”
It is thought that the protein power could be used as animal feed, which would in turn allow newly available land to be used for growing produce for human consumption. Importantly, the scientists also maintain that the reactor, if used with electricity from renewable energy sources, can operate with no impact on the environment.
As Juha-Pekka Pitkänen expands;
“In the long term, protein created with electricity is meant to be used in cooking and products as it is. The mixture is very nutritious, with more than 50 per cent protein and 25 per cent carbohydrates. The rest is fats and nucleic acids.
“The consistency of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms used in the production”.
The technology remains in the early stages, though, and if the researcher’s ambitious aims are to be fulfilled, the reactor will need to be modified to become far more prolific than its current output; the Independent reports that it currently takes two weeks for the reactor to produce a gram of protein powder.