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A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO₂, water and electricity. It’s a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5–10 percent fat, and 20–25 percent carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour, and could become an ingredient in a wide variety of food products after its initial launch in 2021.

 

It’s likely to first appear on grocery shelves in protein shakes and yogurt.

 

It could be an exciting development: Solein’s manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited — we’ve got too much CO₂, if anything. Why not get rid of some greenhouse gas with a side of fries?

 

Seriously sustainable

Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using carbon-capture technology, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner Fortum to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.

 

When the company claims its single-celled protein is “free from agricultural limitations,” they’re not kidding.

 

Solar Foods has developed a process that uses renewable energy and the carbon dioxide polluting our atmosphere to create an alternative protein it calls Solein.

 

The company says this process makes Solein 100 times more climate-friendly than other sources of protein, even those created from plants — and if it proves scalable, the technique could address both the devastating environmental impact of current agricultural techniques as well as the need to produce food in places where those techniques aren’t workable.

 

Microbe Munchies

To create Solein, Solar Foods starts by using renewable energy to split water cells into hydrogen and oxygen. Then it combines the hydrogen with CO2, and adds potassium, sodium, and other nutrients.

 

Then the company feeds the concoction to microbes, which in turn create an edible ingredient Solar Foods says is roughly 20 to 25 percent carbohydrates, 5 to 10 percent fat, and 50 percent protein.

 

“Producing Solein is entirely free from agriculture — it doesn’t require arable land or irrigation and isn’t limited by climate conditions,” Solar Foods told Dezeen. “It can be produced anywhere around the world, even in areas where conventional protein production has never been possible.”

 

Startup Synergy

Solar Foods hopes to get Solein into grocery stores within the next two years, perhaps in the form of protein shakes or plant-based yogurt. Eventually, the company might even team up with other future food startups.

 

“We know Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods use pea protein, soy proteins” CEO Pasi Vainikka told Fast Company. “And if they scale big time, they need a lot of these proteins.”

 

An entirely new kind of food that is natural, can taste like anything, and unlike any other food, not limited to the availability of land or the use of animals, agriculture and aquaculture. Solar Foods’ bioprocess utilises direct-air capture, natural fermentation and renewable energy to deliver the most sustainable protein so far in the world. In space Solar Foods’ innovation can also be used to make food during space missions.

 

In April 2021 the company received and EUR 10 million investment from the Finnish Climate Fund to start the commercial-scale production of the Solein protein.

 

This funding brings the financing total for Solar Foods to EUR 35 million.


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