Air Protein raises $32M to develop a meat alternative out of thin air
The company, built around 1960s-era NASA research of turning carbon dioxide into something edible, received funds from ADM Ventures, Barclays and GV.
Megan Poinski, FoodDive
Jan. 7, 2021
Big investors are putting their money toward a company making a meat substitute out of thin air.
ADM Ventures, Barclays and GV (formerly Google Ventures) led a $32 million funding round for Air Protein, a startup that uses fermentation to make a meat alternative out of elements in the air. The company, founded by former strategy consultant Lisa Dyson, who also has a doctorate in physics, is built around 1960s-era NASA research about how astronauts could convert carbon dioxide into food.
“With this funding, we will be able to accelerate our work towards providing innovative, environmentally friendly, highly nutritious alternatives that will play an important role in meeting the growing global demand for alternatives to animal protein,” Dyson said in an emailed press release. “We are commercializing a novel technology platform that is capable of scaling to large-scale production to help feed the world’s 10 billion people by the year 2050, in the most sustainable approach available today.”
Air Protein will use the funds to launch an innovation R&D lab, accelerate product development and commercialization, and recruit a dedicated team. In an email, Dyson said Air Protein has been been leveraging staff from sister company Kiverdi, which uses similar technology for plastic recycling, soil enriching, creating feed for aquaculture and developing closed-loop systems that reuse other industries' waste products. Dyson plans to bring on a dedicated team for Air Protein, including a meat R&D staff, as well as positions in finance, marketing and HR.
While Air Protein's entire premise may sound like science fiction, it's outlined in a 1967 NASA report about how to support human life during a space mission longer than a year. The space agency looked at hydrogenotrophs — common microbes, some of which live in the human gut — that can be used to turn carbon dioxide into a physical protein. NASA considered harnessing these microbes to convert the carbon dioxide that astronauts would exhale into something they could eat.
In 2016, Dyson gave a TED talk about how the technology works. After Air Protein was spun off from Kiverdi in 2019, she told Food Dive the company had developed fermentation vessels that can rapidly and efficiently convert gases to what looks like a protein-rich flour. She said these facilities are similar to breweries.
Sustainability is one of the biggest benefits of Air Protein's production process, which requires...
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