Food from thin air

Food from thin air

#LEAP22 left us inspired to change the world – and we want you to feel the same. Here’s our weekly pick of keynote quotes: dive in and discover innovations to get excited about.


This week we’re quoting…

Mohammed Ashour (Founder and CEO at Aspire)

What Ashour said:

“If we want to develop a future-proof, climate resilient, drought resistant and scalable food production system, we have to think radically outside the box…to leverage technology to really help us produce food at a scale that was previously unthinkable in history.”

Out-of-the-box innovations 

Ashour inspired us to look at what food innovations are changing the way people eat right now. 

Here are some projects and farming strategies we love: 

  • Vertical farms including ECO 1 (the largest in the world) and Bustanica, both in Dubai, are producing crops indoors in urban areas. With lower water requirements and protection from insects and infections in traditional farm environments, as well as utilising vertical space instead of land space, vertical farms aim to produce a high yield with minimal emissions and minimal resource consumption
  • Scientists around the world are using selective breeding, biofortification, and genetic engineering to develop super crops: edible plants that can withstand heat, drought, and flood, and are rich in concentrated nutritional value. Experts hope these super crops will revolutionise food production and, crucially, provide food security in regions where agricultural production is slow or precarious. 
  • Precision agriculture is the term for a new wave of tech-driven farmers who are using data to reinvent large-scale agriculture. Using sensors on tractors and satellites, they track crop health and make planting and fertiliser decisions with a high level of accuracy and efficacy – to improve business efficiency and sustainability. One of the key environmental benefits is that nitrogen fertiliser is used far less, and only when it’s needed – which is really important, because nitrogen fertiliser is a big contributor to water pollution and carbon emissions

Making new food from old food (and from thin air)

As well as innovative food production tech on a large scale, small scale innovators are developing tech-based food creation techniques that have the potential to be scaled. 

  • Elzelinde van Doleweerd (a graduate of Eindhoven University of Technology), in collaboration with a Chinese tech company, is developing food products that are 3D printed from leftover food. Yes, really. Featured in Dezeen, the foods are mostly crunchy snack samples made from leftover sweet potatoes and rice. They’re proof that food waste can be repurposed into more food.
  • US startup Eat Just has created a lab-grown cultured chicken product that was deemed safe for human consumption by the Singapore Food Agency in 2020. The ‘meat’ is made from cells harvested from live animals, that are then grown and cultured into meat.
  • Another graduate, Rob Russell from the UK’s University of Leeds, has designed a countertop Spira device that can harvest microalgae. Each day, it produces two tablespoons of fresh spirulina – a nutrient-dense biomass of cyanobacteria that is safe (and healthy) for human consumption. In fact, the two tablespoons amount to the recommended daily serving for one person.
  • Finnish food-tech startup Solar Foods, in collaboration with the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Lappeenranta University of Technology, has developed a protein-rich food called Solein. And it’s made from electricity, air, a little bit of water, and bacteria. Solein doesn’t need land or large quantities of water to produce it, so it’s an intriguing step in low-impact, sustainable food production.  

Could you be a farmer? 

The new generation of farmers won’t be the same as their parents and grandparents. By necessity, farming is changing – because while the human population of the world is growing by about 1.1% each year, the resources available to us are shrinking. 

Farmers will be innovators. Innovators will become farmers. Maybe you have an idea that could change the way we produce and consume food. If so, you should definitely tell us about it at #LEAP23. 


This week we’re also quoting

Stéphane Houdet (World’s #1 Paralympic Tennis Player)

What Houdet said: 

“This wheel of 1kg for [wheelchair] sports is also an improvement for everyone as a day chair.” 


OK, this particular quote is a little abstract when taken out of context. Let us fill you in: Houdet was talking about developments in the technology used by para-athletes in wheelchair tennis. He collaborated with engineers who created a wheel that weighed only 1kg to improve his performance in the sport. 

The point: specific use to general use

That wheel doesn’t just improve sports performance. It also (as Houdet pointed out) makes daily life better for non-athlete wheelchair users who then have access to a lightweight wheel. Lightweight wheelchairs aren’t appropriate for all users in all circumstances, but generally speaking they’re easier to manoeuvre and let users get around faster, with less effort. 

So the benefits of a technology developed for a very specific use can then trickle down into more general use. Improving manoeuvrability in a sports wheelchair isn’t only about improving sports performance – it’s also about the experience for all wheelchair users. 

And this specific-use-to-general-use development trajectory is something we see in numerous areas of tech. Products developed for particular purposes are then adapted into consumer devices – and we expect to see more of this as advanced robotics become ubiquitous. 

In case you didn’t know

Speaking of innovations that benefit people in unexpected ways – did you know that bubble wrap (that irresistible popping plastic that’s definitely not good for the environment) was originally invented in 1957 as a new kind of textured wallpaper

We’re imagining it lining the walls of the LEAP offices. Pretty weird. 



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