Image Credit: Wageningen University
What Is Controlled Environment Agriculture?
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), can be defined as any kind of agriculture or growing which is carried out in an enclosed space, and with some degree of environmental control (e.g temperature, heat, light, CO2 etc).
There are many sub-sectors & definitions within this. The important point is that any given technology represents just one particular tool in the toolbox.
The key is to understand the limitations of any given technology, and to only deploy it wherethere is a significant & demonstrable benefit in doing so.
The aim should always be to minimise harmful environmental impacts and, at the same time, to generate the greatest possible beneficial socio-economic impacts.
In short, our first question should always be:
What is the purpose of this cultivation system?
Everything else should follow from that
Alternative & Additional Proteins
Plant proteins are now well established. Plenty of coverage is given, and many companies are actively working to make alternative products. With a staggering variety of plants available, the potential is near unlimited!
However, the potential of CEA to aid the development and expansion of this sector is underexplored at present.
Mushrooms & Fungi
Fungi are one the great unsung heroes of natural ecosystems. Their fruiting bodies, mushrooms, are also pretty tasty! Though not massively high in protein in and of themselves, fungi can also be processed into products with a higher and/or specialist protein content.
These products are grown and/or created in CEA almost by definition. The important question now is of integration with other systems
Insect protein is having something of
a moment right now. Having recently secured approval for products for human consumption, the market is
currently expanding rapidly.
In addition to these food and feed uses, insect by-products - chitin, for example - are also of great interest
for their potential applications in
the circular economy.
First of all, it's worth separating these out into micro - as seen in the image above - and macro varieties like seaweed and kelp.
The opportunities are there for both in controlled environment systems. Photo-bioreators like those pictured offer enormous opportunities to avoid resource waste and produce high quality products. But macro varieties may also be an interesting proposition in controlled aquaculture based systems.
Biomass & Precision Fermentation
Fermentation is not a new technology. We've been using to make food for a very long time!
The newer kids on the fermentation protein block though, are biomass fermentation and precision fermentation.
Arguably the ultimate controlled environment, in that the growing space is essentially a great big vat (bioreactor)!
Throughout all of these categories, we ought above all else to be looking to integrate technologies - both with each other and with wider agricultural systems.
In particular, we should seek to utilise the principles of the circular economy. Or perhaps more even than that, we could aim for virtuous spirals, in which value is added, whilst the span of negative impacts is ever narrowed.
We need more protein production. But we also need that protein production to have significantly less harmful environment impacts. And we need it to have greater social and economic benefits too.
The premise of both Alternative and Additional proteins is to be other than that produced by so-called conventional sources, be they (for example) animal agriculture for food, or petrochemical for other products.
The distinction between the two is not especially well established, nor particularly clear cut - with some degree of use overlap being fairly common. That said, we can broadly view them according to their names - i.e that Alternative protein is meant to replace some portion of conventional, whereas Additional protein is meant of course to be in addition to conventional sources.
Common to all the types shown above, is the fact that by using CEA, we can look to significantly reduce land use, minimise resource use, include circular economy principles, and increase the resilience of supply chains.
What We Do
If you're working in any of the sectors listed above (or indeed any relevant others not listed!), and are interested
in collaborating & cooperating with others, drop us a line.
Let's see what we can do together!
Whether it's our own events, or
working together on yours, we want
to bring people together, start conversations, break down silos,
and push forward integrations.
Similar challenges exist across all the sectors in which we're interested.
None of us are big enough, in the grand scheme of things, to have
much impact on things like policy.
Together, we can do so much more!
CEA Proteins exists to act as a convener, advocate and hub for collaboration, across all types of alternative & additional controlled environment protein production.
The potential of CEA for protein production is enormous, but significantly
under-explored and under-utilised at present.
We all know that the way we produce protein has to change. We know that we
need much more protein, but we cannot afford to trash the natural world (and so endanger ourselves) to do so.
CEA Proteins intends to bring together those working in these many and various areas, to identify areas of common interest, to seek out opportunities of mutual benefit, and to facilitate the integration of these systems into the wider world,
with all the benefits that could bring.
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