Protein from coal

Food from coal sounds like science fiction. Yet Chinese scientists have developed a cost-effective method of converting coal into protein, which they say could feed livestock much more efficiently than natural plants, while using a tiny fraction of the land. (reported by New Atlas, Wired and The South China Post. In other articles on precision fermentation and sweeteners, egg protein, and ground beef or chicken are now available. The term Moos Law is the expondential progress in this area of food production using simple starches.

The Chinese Academy of Science team’s process is:

  • Coal is transformed into methanol via gasification – a technique that can now be executed with near-zero carbon emissions if using DACs.
  • Methanol is then fed to a special strain of Pichia pastoris yeast, which ferments the methanol to produce a single-cell protein complete with a range of amino acids, vitamins, inorganic salts, fats and carbohydrates.
  • The protein partially replaces fish, soybeans, meat and skimmed milk in a range of animal feeds.

Commercial Production of Food from Coal

The research team has commenced industrial-scale demonstrations, producing thousands of tons of protein in an undisclosed plant. While microbial proteins show promise, only a few products are on the market.

Another American company KnipBio has received FDA approval for its KnipBio Meal, a high-quality feed protein comparable to fishmeal derived from methanol. It uses a yeast they isolated from a leaf, and uses bacteria to convert methanol to a feed ingredient. Which they then included in blends with existing feed regiments.

KnipBio Process – see

Further Reading and References

  1. Gao, L., Meng, J., Dai, W. et al. Deciphering cell wall sensors enabling the construction of robust P. pastoris for single-cell protein production. Biotechnol Biofuels 16, 178 (2023).
  2. Coal-to-protein livestock feed uses 1/1000th as much land as farming New Atlas Jan 2024
  3. Chinese scientists convert coal into protein to answer animal feed demand Jan 2024 South China Post
  4. The global demand for animal feed is soaring. Scientists are turning to coal to create protein Wired