By Isis Almeida
One of the world’s largest agricultural commodity traders is pouring money into a startup making meat from elements of the air.
Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., Barclays Plc and Google’s venture capital unit are leading a $32 million series A funding for Air Protein. The California-based firm combines carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen with water and minerals in a probiotic production process that converts the elements into nutrients.
It all sounds very futuristic, but Air Protein’s Chief Executive Officer Lisa Dyson says it’s like making yogurt, a process that involves live cultures, but that requires no arable land. If scalable, the technology will help cut agriculture emissions and even improve food security as the product can be made anywhere independent of climate, soil and weather conditions.
“There’s going to be 10 billion people in the planet by 2050 and our current food-production system is one of the largest greenhouse gas producing sectors,” she said in a phone interview. “The meat industry is the largest greenhouse gas producing sector within food.”
The company will use the funds to start an innovation lab, accelerate product development and commercialization, as well as to recruit and build a “world-class” team, Air Protein said in an emailed statement. There’s still no set time line for when the alternative meat will reach the market.
Air Protein’s technology is “aligned with ADM’s larger mission to develop innovative products to meet growing global demand for nourishing foods and beverages,” Darren Streiler, the investment director of ADM Ventures, said in an emailed statement. A portion of the funding “will be used to accelerate required submissions to the FDA, product development and commercialization,” he said.
Yogurt is made by adding live cultures to warm milk, creating the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive, thickening the milk. Air Protein’s process creates a source of protein that has all the essential amino acids and is rich in vitamins and minerals including B12, Dyson said.
“Once we have that protein ingredient, we create textures and flavors of meat by combining different culinary techniques,” she said. “You can think of it as taking wheat flour and turning into pasta, there’s different culinary techniques to do that and in a similar type of concept we are able to use culinary techniques to go from that protein ingredient to final meat products.”
The investment comes as the faux meat sector is expanding, with the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods Inc. making plant-based burgers that resemble the real thing. These companies, however, rely on crops like soybeans and peas, some of which have limited supplies, at least for now.
It also comes at a time consumers are growing more concerned about where their food comes from and whether it’s grown in an ethical and environmentally friendly way. Even meat giants like Tyson Foods Inc., America’s largest meat packer, have made a foray into the alternative protein sector.
“What we see in the market place is that consumers are really looking for more sustainable approaches, more environmentally friendly food choices, so we are excited to have that as a key differentiating feature with our protein,” Dyson said.