Asteroid LF16 is coming a little close for comfort. What happens if one of the 62 potential trajectories actually hit Earth? Fortunately, it’s a one in 30 million chance, but engineers are nothing if not prepared, and protecting the planet’s food systems is a crucial backup plan in case an asteroid does hit with the force of a nuclear bomb. 

Joshua Pearce, the Richard Witte Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and professor of electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, is the co-author of "Feeding Everyone No Matter What: Managing Food Security After Global Catastrophe." The book lays out scientific approaches to planning for long-term interruptions in food production.

“The primary historic solution developed over the last several decades is increased food storage. But storing up enough food to feed everyone would take a lot of time and risks many lives as food prices skyrocket. Humanity is far from doomed, however, there are solutions,” Pearce says. “We have done an order-of-magnitude technical analysis comparing caloric requirements of all humans for five years with conversion of existing vegetation and fossil fuels to edible food, so-called ‘alternative foods’.”

These alternative foods include: natural gas-digesting bacteria, extracting food from leaves, and conversion of fiber by enzymes, mushroom or bacteria growth, or a two-step process involving partial decomposition of fiber by fungi and/or bacteria and feeding them to animals such as beetles, ruminants (cows, deer, etc), rats and chickens.

“Having information about how to access these foods given a major asteroid impact can help many people, and groups like ALLFED are working hard to make that happen,” Pearce says.

Pearce runs the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab, dedicated to exploring collaborative solutions to sustainability. He is the author of numerous studies on alternative food, renewable energy and distributed manufacturing.