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Sawdust for starters: Could turning industrial waste into meat alternatives solve food scarcity?

Think about sawdust. 

Eating it is probably the last thing that comes into your mind, but that may be about to change thanks to one Estonian start-up. 

ÄIO, set up in 2022, has created a way of producing fats and oils from industrial waste. 

"What we have developed is very similar to brewing beer, where yeast is used to convert sugars from barley into alcohol, and hops are added for taste," co-founder Petri-Jaan Lahtvee told Euronews Next, explaining how it works in the simplest terms. 

"We are using a different type of yeast that coverts sugars from industrial sidestreams, but not into ethanol - into fats and oils instead," he added.

"It's basically a very natural process like fermentation". 

Timber, agricultural byproducts like straw, and even food waste, can be turned into ingredients for the food or cosmetic industries. 

Plus the process doesn't need other inputs - save a "little bit" of nitrogen - and is easily scalable in other locations around the world, according to Lahtvee. 

The rosey red oil produced by ÄIO's innovative process is ideal for making alternatives to meat, which often need a splash of colour to attract consumers away from their animal-based rivals. 

The company says its encapsulated oils are a "perfect" plant-based substitute for bakery products. 

Besides being "tastier and healthier" than alternatives on the market, a key benefit of their invention is it "mitigates" the "huge environmental impact" of animal fats and plant-based oils, Lahtvee told Euronews Next. 

Producing palm oil - which is used in a myriad of everyday products like spreads and shampoo - has caused devastating deforestation across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

But there are other boons. 

Lahtvee claims