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Solein is an orange, neutral-tasting powder, Source: Solar Foods

Finnish air-fed protein could solve world hunger

Finnish air-fed protein could solve world hunger

The invention promises to be revolutionary as it can decouple food production from agriculture and its environmental impacts

Solar Foods is the name of a Finnish food tech company, which has invented a single-cell protein called solein – a neutral-tasting orange powder that promises to completely transform the way food is produced in the future. Solein is neither plant-based, nor animal-based, and although it will be industrially produced, its creation will actually result in much fewer emissions to the environment than that of its organic counterparts.

The entrepreneurs, however, are quite optimistic that their invention will revolutionize food production since it can be easily scaled up. Solein production is similar to wine fermentation and only requires air and minerals to feed the protein cells.

According to a press release, the company recently signed a credit facility with Danske Bank Growth for the construction of its first factory in the Finnish city of Vantaa. The plant, called Factory 01, is set to start operating and producing solein in 2023.

Meat without cows, eggs without chickens

Although the process will be industrial, the experts behind it explain that it shouldn’t be viewed as synthetic. It will be a case of ‘shortcutting’ Nature’s way with the addition of science.

Dr Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, co-owner and Chief Technology Officer at Solar Foods, explains that it all starts with a microbe that is found in nature. He then detailed the process for Food24:

The microbes are cultured and grown with air and electricity as the primary resources in a fermentor akin to the ones used in breweries and wineries. For the microbes to grow, they will need food. Our air-capture device captures carbon dioxide and water from the air. The water that is collected is then split with renewable electricity into hydrogen and oxygen. 

The microbes are fed carbon dioxide, hydrogen and mineral nutrients that include nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. These are the same nutrients that plants normally absorb through their roots from the soil. The microbes eat these ingredients to grow and multiply. As the liquid grows thicker, some of the slurry is continuously removed and dried. The resulting dried powder is solein, which is made up of whole cells that are up to 70% protein.

Solein thus not only has the capacity to solve food security issues, which in recent months have returned to the top ranks of global concerns, but it can do so in an astoundingly sustainable fashion. The new protein is about 10 times more climate-friendly than most plant-based proteinsand about 100 times more climate-friendly than meat.

It also takes just a fraction of the amount of water to produce solein, making it suitable for bio-farming in water-scarce climates. The startup has pointed out that it can be grown in the most arid and inhospitable environments, such as Antarctica or the Sahara. This can free food provision from its dependence on climate conditions.

Is that the future of food?                                                

Its creators explain that solein is a powder that can serve as an added ingredient to virtually all meals and food products, such as pasta, breads, plant-based drinks and dairy, or even as a supplement.

It can be a great ingredient for sweet and savoury snacks. It can also be used to make non-dairy foods like vegan cheese, ice cream, yoghurt and dairy imitations.

In terms of nutritional value, solein consists of 60–70% protein, 10–15% carbohydrates, 5–8% fat and 3–5% minerals. It is gluten-free, 100% vegan and rich in iron.

The planned production facility in Vantaa will also serve as a platform for scaling up production, allowing investors, financial institutions and other stakeholders to learn about the new production technology.

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