A Finnish company called Solar Foods, which makes food from electricity, water and air, has said it plans to sell 50 million of its products in supermarkets within two years.
Solar Foods is also working with the European Space Agency to supply astronauts on a mission to Mars after devising a method that it says creates a high-protein product that looks and tastes like wheat flour at a cost of $ 5. euros per kilo.
The Helsinki-based company, assisted by an investigation from Finland's VTT Technical Research Center and Lappeenranta University of Technology, will apply for a new food license from the EU this year before starting commercial production in 2021.
The powder known as Solein can be textured through 3D printing, or it can be added to dishes and food products as an ingredient.
It is produced through a process similar to brewing beer. Living microbes are put into liquid and fed on carbon dioxide and hydrogen bubbles, which have been released from the water by the application of electricity. The microbes create proteins, which are then dried to make powder.
Dr. Pasi Vainikka, the CEO of the tech startup, said the company had produced a carbon-neutral form to produce an all-natural protein source without wasting land or water. Pre-engineering at a large-scale factory had just started, he added.
"It is a completely new type of food, a new type of protein, different from all the foods on the market today in the way it is produced, since it does not need agriculture or aquaculture," he said.
The food product was said to mark a break with a thousand years of production. "If we go back in time in collecting societies, we've just been using more of the same, plants and animals," he said.
Vainikka said he did not expect his product, which he described as the most environmentally friendly protein in the world, to challenge farmers in the next two decades, but that it was a "new crop for the people." Three-quarters of the world's calories come from 12 plants and five animal species.
A quarter of the world's carbon footprint is due to food production, but the UN has said there must be a 50% to 70% increase in food by the middle of the century.
Half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture and scientists claim that the maximum catch for the fishing industry, in terms of efficiency, was 20 years ago.
Vainikka said that the powder could be an "ingredient like any ingredient in food" or it would be possible to "make the powder turn into fibers that resemble meat or bread."