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Solar Foods’s Solein protein may solve world’s nutrient problems

Solar Foods, a Finnish startup, has created Solein protein from air using carbon-capture technology. This non-agricultural, carbon-neutral protein could be the solution to global hunger.
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Solar Foods, a Finnish startup, has found a new way to make protein out of carbon dioxide and renewable electricity based on research done in Finnish laboratories.

The protein called Solein is produced naturally but not through agriculture or aquaculture. It can be used as a meat alternative and as an ingredient in bakery products.

Solar Foods is utilizing research carried out in VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and LUT University (Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology). The researchers reversed the process of fossil fuels burning and releasing CO2 in the atmosphere. They instead captured CO2 from the air and through a complex fermentation process using a microbial cell and renewable electricity produced protein.

Solein_powder_on-glass-plate-protein

Solar Foods claims that the product is sustainable and energy-efficient. “The efficiency from electricity to calories is about 20%.” (Image: Solar Foods)

After the proof-of-concept at VTT, Solar Foods was founded in November 2017 and started operation in March 2018. It is producing protein in its most natural form, claims the company. The fermentation process uses nutrients like nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium similar to plants to produce the protein.

 Solein protein is produced naturally but not through agriculture or aquaculture. It can be used as a meat alternative and as an ingredient in bakery products.

Solar Foods claims that the product is sustainable and energy-efficient. “The efficiency from electricity to calories is about 20%.” Solein yield is ten times more than that of conventional agriculture production if compared on land use. This is factoring in the use of solar panels that require some landmass.

Solein is about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteins and about 100 times more climate-friendly than meat. Compared to plant-based protein production, Solein production consumes 99% less water.

Solein protein in laboratory

Use of this technology to produce Solein will free a lot of land from agriculture production. The production method is carbon-neutral as it circulates the gas. Solein production is net sink of carbon dioxide from climate change perspective as it frees land that can be utilized to grow trees, which breath in CO2.

Solein is about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteins and about 100 times more climate-friendly than meat. Compared to plant-based protein production, Solein production consumes 99% less water.

Solein is wholly safe and vegan. It contains all the essential amino acids, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins as any other food.  Solein is very high in protein – upto 65%. The company has plans to market the product by 2021. It has a plant in Espoo where the technology has been scaled up 10000 times. Full-scale production is expected to start soon, once the pilot project passes all required permissions and gains proper technology and construction inputs.

The company plans Solein’s use as an alternative to meat, as a protein ingredient in existing food such as bread, pasta and plant-based dairy, and drinks.

“We can create ready-made lasagna— from the pasta, to the sauce to the meat — without the consumer ever knowing how the physics behind it were provided,” says Solar Foods CEO Pasi Vainikka.

Solar Foods entered into a partnership with Fazer Group, a 128-year-old Finnish food company, to help scale up the application of Solein into different foods. In a press statement Fazer said it was entering into the agreement with Solar Foods to achieve its ambitious sustainability set goals by 2030: 50% less emissions, 50% less food waste, 100% sustainably sourced and more plant-based.

Solar Foods is in talks with ESABIC (European Space Agency Business Incubator) to explore the feasibility of producing Solein during the Mars mission.

Other startups — such as Air Protein in the U.S. — are also trying to develop food from thin air. Solar Food claims its Solein is a unique novel food never harvested before by humankind.

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