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Protein content like soy: Start-up produces a nutritious powder from CO₂

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Protein content like soy: Start-up produces a nutritious powder from CO₂

There’s probably a little bubbling in the stainless steel kettle when a climate-friendly protein product is brewed at the Finnish start-up Solar Foods. Carbon dioxide (C0₂) and hydrogen are blown into an aqueous liquid as starting materials. Oxygen also flows in, as an elixir of life for the protagonists of the process: natural microorganisms that convert the gases into the desired product.

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At the end, a protein-rich sludge is sucked out of the fermenter and dried. The yolk-yellow powder has a similar protein content to soy or algae, the company says. Almost all of the 20 essential amino acids are included, as well as nutrients, iron and B vitamins. The protein product is said to be suitable, among other things, as an ingredient for milk substitute products, fake meat and pasta. Together with the confectionery manufacturer Fazer from Finland, Solar Foods has already produced market-ready ice cream and a chocolate bar with solein, which has recently been allowed to be sold in Singapore.

“With the product launch in Singapore, we are getting feedback from consumers and thus a feeling for acceptance,” says the boss and co-founder of the company Pasi Vainikka. However, other countries are already in sight. “Our goal is a big launch in Europe next year or the year after, with a whole range of products.”

Image 1 of 12 Solein, the Finnish start-up Solar Foods has named its protein powder, which can be the basis for a number of foods.
(Image: Solar Foods)

The production process is not quite as resource-saving as the term “proteins from the air” makes it seem. Like plants to grow, the microbes in the fermenter need nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and sodium to reproduce. And the hydrogen must first be obtained from water via energy-intensive electrolysis – ideally, of course, with electricity from wind or solar power. But the advantages over meat production are obvious.

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About a third of the world‘s arable land is blocked by the cultivation of animal feed. In addition, climate-protecting forests often have to give way. According to Solar Foods, the fermenter protein is around 100 times more climate-friendly than meat. In addition, production only requires a tenth of the area that would be needed to grow protein-rich plants such as soy, it is said. Less water consumption, no pesticides and no fertilizer pollution of the environment are also among the advantages of proteins from microbes and also that they are free from antibiotics or other medication.

Solar Foods claims to have already made and tasted more than 20 different foods from solein. With the products, the start-up wants to secure a share in a market that, according to the industry publication The Vegconomist, is expected to grow by 11.7 percent every year. By the end of 2023, the market volume for air proteins could grow to $100 million.

Other companies are also contributing to this, such as the US company Air Protein, which originally developed air proteins for use in space stations and is now primarily working on meat alternatives for terrestrial supermarkets. Or the pioneer Calysta from California, which has been producing with similar technology to Solar Foods since 2012. However, instead of using hydrogen and carbon dioxide directly in the fermenter, the company uses methane, to which the two gases have to be combined in advance. The protein product is also produced in Great Britain and China under the brand name FeedKind and is processed into feed for fish farms and pets, among other things. It is already approved as animal feed in many countries, including in the EU.

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The trend towards plant-based alternatives is apparently there. And Solar Foods is also currently expanding its production capacities. If the company’s plans work, industrial production of solein will begin in Vantaa, Finland, this year.

(Older brother)

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