From unexpected ingredients to vertical agriculture, discover some of the freshest food innovations that are good for both business and the environment
With a world population already approaching eight billion, sustainable food systems are needed more urgently than ever. Arable land remains under pressure, with available cropland continuing to decrease. At the same time, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that livestock are responsible for 14.5 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
As the climate changes farmers are coping with more frequent extreme weather, and the logistical challenge of keeping produce fresh. These issues, combined with inefficiencies in food harvesting, processing, and storing systems, make it clear how pivotal sustainable food systems are to the current and future health of the planet. And going forward there is a simple equation: the world will need to produce about 70 per cent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated nine billion people.
Innovators are examining gaps in provision, identifying bottlenecks throughout supply chains, and using nature-inspired solutions to strengthen, improve, and redesign almost every aspect of global food production and distribution. Agriculture is becoming smarter and more efficient, vertical farms renew unused space as local growing hubs, and technology helps reduce transport emissions. At the molecular and data levels, materials science and machine learning are transforming food packaging and the ingredients we eat.
Canadian company Bee Vectoring Technology (BVT) uses the natural behaviour of bees to reduce chemical farm pollution and improve environmental health. Bees coat themselves in an organic fungicide when they leave the hive and deliver it when they land on a flower. Rather than cover an entire field and infect the soil and local waterways, the BVT system delivers ‘precision agriculture’ that radically eliminates pollutants, making it easier for bees and general biodiversity to flourish. The virtuous cycle of healthy growth can then begin repairing landscapes made arid by industrial farming and its associated pollution. Read more.
Ready to take urban, vertical farming to the next level of efficiency, German company Infarm is introducing high-capacity, cloud-connected Growing Centres to cities around the world. Modular and built in just six weeks, the Growing Centres are between 10 and 18 metres high with a 25 square metre footprint. They combine Internet of Things (IoT) capability with cloud analytics and big data to maximise yields while using minimal resources. Each centre could save up to 10 million litres of water annually. The growing capacity of a centre is large, and steady, enough to supply restaurants and supermarkets, which contributes to reductions in carbon transport emissions and supports the growth of local, circular food economies. Read more.
An isochoric food freezing method developed by researchers at the University of California is based on the system used to transport organs for transplant. Food is placed in an isotonic liquid, sealed in a container, and then placed inside a freezer. The pressure of the freezer reduces the temperature down to freezing, although not low enough to solidify the liquid solution. That prevents ice crystals from forming in the food, which results in higher quality produce. The process significantly reduces energy consumption – by up to 70 per cent. If used widely, the technique could save resources equivalent to the annual removal of one million cars from the road. Read more.
Researchers have developed new biodegradable packaging made from organic starch and corn proteins infused with natural antimicrobial blends that include thyme and citric acid. When the packaging detects contaminants such as fungi or E. coli and listeria bacteria, it releases the antimicrobial ingredients to kill the dangerous compounds. The packaging could work for several months –keeping a variety of food, including fruits, vegetables, raw meat, and ready-to-eat meals, fresh. Read more.
Chilean biotech startup Protera uses artificial intelligence to copy the amino acid structures of naturally occurring proteins such as those in flowers. Once a complete protein is built, the company uses fermentation to produce the ingredient at scale. Since the proteins are exact copies, they can be used as direct substitutes for ingredients such as palm oil, chemically hydrogenated fats, and additives that preserve foods for long shelf lives. Fermentation is much faster than traditional, soil-based growing methods and uses far less water, space, and other resources. Read more.
Words: Keely Khoury
1st June 2022