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Finland company turns electricity and carbon dioxide into edible protein: Report

The company has invested over 42 million Euros to build its first biomass factory, Factory 01, as a proof of concept. The facility is equipped with a 20,000-litre fermentation tank that can produce 160 tons of edible biomass a year, enough to produce six million meals.
Last Updated : 01 July 2024, 07:36 IST

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With drastic fluctuations in climate conditions worldwide, agriculture and food production remain crucial for the governments amid growing population. A Finnish startup Solar Foods has been working on what it calls the "revolutionary protein" termed Solein grown out of a tiny, but mighty micro-organism using carbon dioxide and electricity.

The company claims that Solein can boost the global food production.

The idea of Solein

According to Solar Foods which was established in 2017, Solein can be produced more quickly than other protein sources, and can theoretically provide an infinite supply of food using electricity and air. Solein is a yellow powder with nutrition profile similar to dried meat.

The newly-found protein is said to have all essential amino acids required by a human body, while it has a host of vital vitamins.

To date, only the Solar Foods pilot laboratory in Espoo, neighbouring the Finnish capital Helsinki, has produced Solein.

The idea of Solein is said to have started at the Finland's National Research Institute where Solar Foods worked with a team of scientists from different disciplines who brainstormed the concept for a new kind of agriculture.

Solein Pasta with Singapore Pesto.

Solein Pasta with Singapore Pesto.

Credit: solarfoods.com

“We are a classical example of how new things emerge from the intersections of scientific disciplines. Our approach enables us to grow the organism based on non-agricultural products or sugars, disconnecting its production from the environmental impacts of agriculture,'' Interesting Engineering quoted Dr Pasi Vainikka, the co-founder and CEO of Solar Foods as saying.

Vainikka also worked on energy systems at the national research institute where she learnt about a microorganism that does not use sugar as an energy source. She said that instead of sugar, the new process relied on hydrogen (H2) to metabolize carbon dioxide.

She further worked with the scientists wherein they concluded that electricity could provide H2 for these organisms to reproduce using only a tank of water and CO2 in our air. Vainikka says: “If the organisms would be edible, then we could convert electricity to food. And, here we are, some eight, nine, almost 10 years after those first thoughts.”

Using edible biomass to produce 6 million meals

The company has invested over 42 million Euros to build its first biomass factory, Factory 01, as a proof of concept. The facility is equipped with a 20,000-litre fermentation tank that can produce 160 tons of edible biomass a year, enough to produce six million meals.

Solar Foods uses these fermentation tanks to grow microorganism, which can be filtered out and dried into powder. This powder, the company claims, can be a sustainable alternative to traditional means of agriculture that are usually affected by fluctuating climate.

Smoked Pumpkin with Solein Salted Egg Sauce

Smoked Pumpkin with Solein Salted Egg Sauce

Credit: solarfoods.com

Vainikka further says: “These hydrogen-oxidizing microbes utilize dissolved hydrogen in a water-based media. We mix in gases, CO2 and hydrogen, and the microbe has the ability to utilize hydrogen passing the cell as a source of energy to start to reduce carbon dioxide, which is its source of carbon as it is for photosynthetic plants.”

Solar Foods in a release earlier this year claimed that the production of this newly-found protein is not reliant on agriculture, weather, or climate. Solein can be produced in harsh conditions such as deserts, Arctic areas, and in even space, as per the Finnish firm.

The production of Solein as per the company does not require animals or photosynthetic plants, making it the world’s most sustainable protein.

"Growing a kilogram of Solein requires approximately 1 per cent of the water and 5 per cent of the arable land that growing an equivalent amount of plant protein would, and creates only a fifth of the carbon dioxide emissions in the process," the release said.

Referring to the Paris Climate Accord, Vainikka stressed, .."if we take it seriously, it tells us we need to be, as humans, carbon neutral after a couple of decades, or even carbon negative, and it doesn’t happen if we don’t do anything about industrialized agriculture, and specifically industrialized animal keeping, since 80 percent of the environmental impact from the food system is due to animal-based production.”

Renewable energy costs and commercialising Solein

The CEO also pointed out that any considerable decrease in the cost of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, will also directly help cut the cost of Solein when it is produced commercially for customers — in turn making this protein source accessible to more people globally.

“We’ve had regulatory approval in Singapore for a year and a half, we know that we’re going to have regulatory approval during the autumn in the US, so we will have a product out in the US this year—small scale, but still—and the EU is very bureaucratic, so we will know later how that will go,” she said.

Adding that the Finnish firm is in talks with potential customers to enable a strong revenue stream, Vainikka asserted by 2026, Solar Foods aims to have a factory with several fermenters, each with 200 cubic meters or more capacity.

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Published 01 July 2024, 07:36 IST

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