Potential of microbial protein from hydrogen for preventing mass starvation in catastrophic scenarios

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Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


Human civilization's food production system is currently unprepared for catastrophes that would reduce global food production by 10% or more, such as nuclear winter, supervolcanic eruptions or asteroid impacts. Alternative foods that do not require much or any sunlight have been proposed as a more cost-effective solution than increasing food stockpiles, given the long duration of many global catastrophic risks (GCRs) that could hamper conventional agriculture for 5 to 10 years. Microbial food from single cell protein (SCP) produced via hydrogen from both gasification and electrolysis is analyzed in this study as alternative food for the most severe food shock scenario: a sun-blocking catastrophe. Capital costs, resource requirements and ramp up rates are quantified to determine its viability. Potential bottlenecks to fast deployment of the technology are reviewed. The ramp up speed of food production for 24/7 construction of the facilities over 6 years is estimated to be lower than other alternatives (3-10% of the global protein requirements could be fulfilled at end of first year), but the nutritional quality of the microbial protein is higher than for most other alternative foods for catastrophes. Results suggest that investment in SCP ramp up should be limited to the production capacity that is needed to fulfill only the minimum recommended protein requirements of humanity during the catastrophe. Further research is needed into more uncertain concerns such as transferability of labor and equipment production. This could help reduce the negative impact of potential food-related GCRs.

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Sustainable Production and Consumption