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Science of The Total Environment
Volume 776, 2021, 145764

An attributional life cycle assessment of microbial protein production: A case study on using hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria

Natasha Järviöa,b,c, Netta-Leena Maljanena,b,c, Yumi Kobayashia,b,d, Toni Ryynänena,b,c, Hanna L.Tuomistoa,b,d,e

Future Sustainable Food Systems-Research Group, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 27, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland.


Novel food production technologies are being developed to address the challenges of securing sustainable and healthy nutrition for the growing global population. This study assessed the environmental impacts of microbial protein (MP) produced by autotrophic hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria (HOB). Data was collected from a company currently producing MP using HOB (hereafter simply referred to as MP) on a small-scale. Earlier studies have performed an environmental assessment of MP on a theoretical basis but no study yet has used empirical data. An attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) with a cradle-to-gate approach was used to quantify global warming potential (GWP), land use, freshwater and marine eutrophication potential, water scarcity, human (non-)carcinogenic toxicity, and the cumulative energy demand (CED) of MP production in Finland. A Monte Carlo analysis was performed to assess uncertainties while a sensitivity analysis was used to explore the impacts of alternative production options and locations. The results were compared with animal- and plant-based protein sources for human consumption as well as protein sources for feed. Electricity consumption had the highest contribution to environmental impacts. Therefore, the source of energy had a substantial impact on the results. MP production using hydropower as an energy source yielded 87.5% lower GWP compared to using the average Finnish electricity mix. In comparison with animal-based protein sources for food production, MP had 53–100% lower environmental impacts depending on the reference product and the source of energy assumed for MP production. When compared with plant-based protein sources for food production, MP had lower land and water use requirements, and eutrophication potential but GWP was reduced only if low-emission energy sources were used. Compared to protein sources for feed production, MP production often resulted in lower environmental impact for GWP (FHE), land use, and eutrophication and acidification potential, but generally caused high water scarcity and required more energy.

Keywords: Microbial protein, Cellular agriculture, LCA, Food, Hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria.

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