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Animal Feed From Industrial Emissions? Chinese Scientists Say It’s Possible

Animal feed from carbon dioxide? Yeah, it’s a thing now.

China imports about 28 million tons of soybeans every year, mostly from Brazil, Argentina, and the US. Most of those soybeans are ground up and fed to pigs. China faces shortages of farm commodities because of a lack of productive farmland and increasing demand from a more affluent population.

One of the knock-on effects of a higher standard of living is a desire to consume more meat, and the Chinese are no different. As family incomes have risen, the demand for pork and pork products has gone up as well. As a result, there are more pigs raised in China than in any other nation.

According to Time Magazine, Chinese researchers have found a way to turn industrial emissions into animal feed at scale, which could reduce the country’s dependence on imported raw materials such as soybeans.

The technology involves synthesizing industrial exhaust containing carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen into proteins using Clostridium autoethanogenum, a bacterium used to make ethanol. The news was reported this week in the state-run Science and Technology Daily.

If China is able to produce 10 million tons of synthetic protein using the new technology, that would be equivalent to those 28 million tons of soybean imports, according to the researchers. Producing synthetic proteins for animal feed on a large scale would help China decarbonization its economy, a major policy goal of the Communist Party.

Other CO2-To-Feed News

Those Chinese researchers aren’t the only ones working on ways of converting carbon dioxide to animal feed. UK startup Deep Branch also claims it can make that happen using a proprietary process it has invented. According to UpLink, Deep Branch uses micro-organisms to synthesize carbon dioxide into a protein-rich powder which can be used as livestock feed. That would allow farmers to reduce their reliance on traditional ingredients such as soy and fish meal.

“We face two big issues: how do we reduce CO2 and how do we provide more food in a sustainable manner,” says Deep Branch chief executive and co-founder Pete Rowe. “But what if you could solve two problems in one — what if you could use carbon to produce food?”

Deep Branch has signed an agreement to use carbon dioxide from the power plants of Drax, one of the UIK’s largest utility companies. It estimates Proton can be produced with 90% less carbon than alternative protein sources. From one production site, it believes it can sequester as much carbon dioxide as 300,000 automobiles emit in a year.

Raising animals for food creates a lot of carbon emissions. For instance, beef farming produces 60 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kilogram of meat that reaches consumers. To put that into perspective, cultivating peas creates just one kilogram of carbon dioxide for each kilogram of  food produced — a reduction of around 98%.

The demand for meat is expected to double over the next 30 years, Pete Rowe says. If the world doesn’t find a way to slash carbon emissions from agriculture, particularly meat production, the effort to keep the world from overheating to the point where human habitation is no longer possible may come up short.

We might be better off perfecting meat replacements made from plants rather than subjecting defenseless animals to the cruelty of being raised for slaughter on giant factory farms. Putting aside the problem of carbon emissions, humanity can hardly take pride in its brutal, sadistic treatment of the animals it raises for food.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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