Can You Create Food Out of Thin Air? This Startup Thinks So.

Solar Foods has big plans for a small microbe

Solein protein
Solar Foods has made protein using carbon dioxide and energy alone.
Solar Foods

Watch enough science fiction set in the distant future, and eventually you’ll see it: a device that’s capable of generating a meal instantly, from seemingly nowhere. (The replicators on Star Trek are probably the best-known example of this.) It’s an appealing idea: what wouldn’t you eat if you could make a meal from nothing? But it’s also the kind of science fictional technology that seems far too implausible to actually exist.

Except for the fact that one startup has done something along those very lines. The Finnish company Solar Foods recently began producing a protein called Solein at Factory 01, a facility in the city of Vantaa. Solein is a protein powder made using carbon dioxide and energy. As The Guardian‘s Jasper Jolly reports, the company’s co-founders began exploring ways to cultivate microbes that thrive by, in Jolly’s phrasing, “oxidising hydrogen.”

Solar Foods’ offerings have been sold in Singapore, including both a gelato and a snack bar. As per The Guardian‘s reporting, the company has its sights on the U.K. and E.U. markets next. Solein isn’t the only instance of a microbe being used to create a versatile protein — the company Nature’s Fynd is also exploring this space. And for Solar Foods’ founders, the fact that Solein can be created under harsh conditions is part of the appeal.

“Factory 01 demonstrates it is possible to grow protein from start to finish under one roof, year-round even in the harsh Northern conditions of Finland — and to do it all sustainably and in a commercially viable manner,” said the company’s CEO and co-founder, Pasi Vainikka, in a statement.

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With climate change having an adverse effect on farming around the world, scientists will need to think creatively when it comes to new ways of producing food. Can one answer to this be found brewing up in a facility north of Helsinki? If so, Solar Foods has big things in mind. “Factory 02 will eventually scale up the bioprocess as well as the production process: it would not be located in an industrial park, it would more likely fill an industrial park,” Vainikka said.


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