Tech of the month: Solar Foods
Solar Foods, a Finnish startup, is developing protein out of thin air. Grown without farming and only in need of a fraction of the land, water and energy that animals or plants would need. The protein, Solein, can be produced anywhere, as long as there's access to air and electricity.
Oda Allum Larsen
Thursday Nov 10th 2022 06:45

The protein originates from a single-cell microbe and grows by fermentation. They feed the microbe like we would feed a plant, but instead of watering and fertilizing it, they use mere air and electricity. Creating a protein-rich powder that contains all the essential amino acids, which can replace existing proteins in a variety of foods. By using fermentation to grow protein, the bioprocess of their first protein product may not be traditional, but it’s natural. And the best part? It won’t run out.

Solar Foods wants to replace industrial animal farming with high-protein harvest, avoiding all the ethical dilemmas of agriculture from destructive land use to animal suffering. Production of live-stock based meats has massive environmental costs, whether its unsustainable land and water use, animal welfare concerns, climate-heating emissions, and pollution, or even deforestation.

With the production process Solar Foods are developing they are also disconnected from the limitations of traditional agricultural yields, referring to seasonal weather, natural disasters, pests, and supply chain issues.

Solein takes the form of a yellow powder (mostly due to betacarotene which it naturally contains) having a mild taste of umami, which makes it easy to mask in whatever food product it’s being incorporated into. Because of its properties the product could potentially become a key player in the plant-based meat alternative market, making the environmentally friendly meals even more impactful.

Solein appear as a no-brainer on the environmental front. But one key component of its production is energy. Electricity is facing issues of its own in Europe at present, as most of us Europeans have already acknowledged by looking at our monthly budget. Solar Foods' long-term bet is on energy production cots being brought down or stabilized by widespread access to cheap renewables – such as wind and hydro energy in the north of Europe and solar in the sunny south.

Solar Foods has planned to begin their commercial production and sales in 2024. As urbanization continues across the globe, megacities and metropolitan areas will need more sustainable solutions to feed their citizens. So, maybe, the yellow hued powder is served in some shape or form on a dinner plate near you.

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