Through a Strategic Development Agreement announced this morning, the duo will leverage ADM’s nutrition, formulation and research expertise to expand production and commercialization of Air Protein’s landless agriculture platform that creates versatile, functional protein powder and other ingredients with little more than air, water and energy.
Under the agreement, the partners also have mutually exclusive rights to build and operate together Air Protein’s first commercial scale plant.
‘We are focused on bringing a new way of making food to the market that only requires air, water and energy,” and which can be done anywhere so that some of vulnerabilities of the traditional supply chain are “decoupled” from protein production, Air Protein CEO and founder Lisa Dyson told FoodNavigator-USA.
“In meeting the team over at ADM, it was clear to us this was a company that not only was focused on bringing great food to consumers, but also looking at how can we do it better and reach more people tomorrow with innovative ways of getting nutrition into the mouths of people all over the world. … So, it is exciting to share these values and embark on this journey together through a strategic partnership where we can really focus on scaling and getting to market,” she added.
From ADM’s perspective, the partnership enhances its ability to help customers globally meet three enduring trends – sustainability, health and wellbeing, and food security – that are driving the growth and evolution of protein demand, Ian Pinner, ADM’s senior vice president, strategy and innovation, told FoodNavigator-USA. He added, Air Protein fits nicely within ADM’s broader portfolio of businesses, opportunities and pantry of ingredients aimed at creating alternative proteins that deliver on nutrition, flavor and texture and at an accessible price point.
“We are very excited about Air Protein’s technology and vision to provide nutrition using resources that we have in ample supply, and then as well as that, solving some of the climate challenges that we have with that, too,” he added.
Inspired by space travel
Dyson explained that idea for Air Protein came from NASA’s dream of sending astronauts to Mars and needing to feed them on their journey without access to farmlands.
“One of the ideas that they came up with was using cultures, like a yogurt culture for instance, but instead of feeding it milk, or in the case of traditional fermentation instead of feeding it a sugar, we are feeding it directly the elements that maek up the sugar or milk – so, oxygen, carbon dioxide … nitrogen,” all of which are in the air, she said.
Ultimately, Air Protein’s technology is akin to nature’s original way of making protein, similar to photosynthesis, she added.
The startup already has an “Air Farm” in San Leandro, Calif., that was made possible in part from earlier support from ADM, which invested in the company’s series A and SAFE funding alongside others, including the Ford Foundation, Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital, Plum Alley, and GV, Dyson explained.
ADM’s continued support will allow Air Protein to accelerate and scale its Bay Area Air Farm and other growth initiatives, although no timeline has been established, she added.
Air Protein secures GRAS status
The formal partnership comes as Air Protein passes a major milestone of achieving GRAS status for its protein.
“Being Generally Regarded As Safe is a key milestone, and the process that we went through required a lot of different studies and collection of lots of data, an independent review board that reviewed everything and confirmed that our first ingredient that we are commercializing is Generally Regarded As Safe,” Dyson said.
She explained the company’s first ingredient is a powder with 80% protein content and additional vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B-12, which is less available in a vegan diet. It also offers desirable functional properties, like oil and water holding capacity for added moistness.
While the ingredient could be incorporated in many products, Air Protein is focused first on meat alternatives with enhanced functional benefits.
Likewise, because production doesn’t require land to the same degree as animal agriculture, it is a cost-effective solution for local production and doesn’t face some of the same challenges that traditional supply chains must account for – including climate and price volatility, which have hampered traditional animal protein production in recent years, Dyson added.
Ultimately, both sides see the technology as a much-need solution for freeing a growing population and addressing rising climate challenges.