• NASA-based technology is being used to turn carbon dioxide into food and bio-based products.
  • Kiverdi in California is using the tech to create the world’s first ‘air-based meat’.
  • It could also help sustainably feed the aquaculture industry – and make plastic more biodegradable, contributing to the circular economy.
  • Kiverdi is one of 17 innovators part of The Circulars Accelerator cohort on UpLink.

Can you make food from thin air?

NASA asked the same question in the 1960s. And the challenge of feeding a year-long space mission led to a remarkable discovery: when astronauts exhale, the carbon dioxide in their breath can be captured by a special class of microbes – and potentially turned into nutrients.

Now an American company has taken this technology and converted CO2 into food and bio-based products.

a diagram showing how
Californian company Kiverdi is using technology to turn CO2 into food.
Image: Air Protein

Carbon challenge

California-based Kiverdi has more than 50 patents granted or pending for carbon transformation technology, which is inspired by the microbes, called hydrogenotrophs, that NASA discovered.

These are natural single-cell organisms that act like plants in the way in which they convert carbon dioxide into food.

Air Protein, a Kiverdi spin-off company, has created the world’s first air-derived meat using this method.

Produced “without the traditional land, water and weather requirements,” Air Protein says, the meat can be made “in a matter of days instead of months … and requires just a tiny fraction of the land used in traditional meat production”. The company compares the process to that of making yoghurt or beer and says it addresses the global need for producing more food using less land.

With 36 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted globally every year, the company says it knows its work is just beginning.

“It is not just about reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” says Lisa Dyson, Chief Executive of Kiverdi, “but also leading a new era of sustainable production on how food and everyday products are made, to support a growing population.”

Other applications

Some of those everyday products include Revive Soil, which turns CO2 from the air into organic crop nutrients, and CO2 Aquafeed, which converts CO2 into an alternative, sustainable form of fish feed – avoiding the need to produce fishmeal using 15 million tonnes of wild-caught fish a year.

Kiverdi is also developing Reverse Plastics, which uses the technology to turn plastic waste into a range of biodegradable materials.

Towards a circular economy

Kiverdi is a member of the Circulars Accelerator cohort. This is an initiative to help entrepreneurs scale innovations that will help the world move towards a circular economy – in which waste is eliminated and resources are used again and again.

The accelerator is a collaboration with UpLink, the Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform, and is led by professional services company Accenture in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab, and Schneider Electric.

UpLink hopes to accelerate the delivery of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include ending poverty and hunger and combatting climate change by 2030.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.