Interview with Jero Ahola, professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering at LUT.
Is this project called Neo Carbon Food a huge step in the scientific research by Finnish scientists?
Jero Ahola: Our project began in 2014 when we started thinking about electrifying the whole energy system. We’ve already known that we can produce hydrogen and oxygen from water with the use of solar electricity. We have also known that there are microbes that actually need hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, some nutrients and nitrogen for their growth. And now we have the necessary technology to capture CO2 directly from the air. The possibility of producing microbial protein using H2-oxidizing bacteria has been known since the 1960s. Back then, researchers thought that humans will go to space and will have to produce food during the space travel. But they didn’t go further, they didn’t continue the project. Now we have to consider our Earth as a space ship.
When did you publish your results?
Jero Ahola: In 2017, we published a press release stating that we were able to produce this microbial protein powder using this technology. The news spread all over the world. Afterwards, the company Solair Foods was set up which is commercialising this discovery.
Why did you follow-up on the research in the 1960s?
Jero Ahola: Conditions have changed since the sixties because now we have the problem of climate change and we are in a situation when we can have very low cost renewable electricity. We don’t have to burn any more because we have the technology to replace fossil fuels.
Could the next generation of food be produced this way?
Jero Ahola: Yes, why not? Very interesting changes are taking place. More and more people start thinking that killing animals for food for example is not right. And if you make this protein powder you can also improve the nutritional value of bread or yoghurt.
Can this bacterial biomass be produced anywhere in the world?
Jero Ahola: Yes. The main prerequisite you need is energy. In the world we have wind or solar or both. Basically, we can have these sources of energy anywhere. We can capture CO2 anywhere from the air with technology. And the use of water can be minimal if we recycle it. But we can also capture it from the air.