Finnish university spin-out develops protein without agriculture


The Solar Foods production facility, called Factory 01, is set to begin construction in Q4 2021 in Vantaa, Finland

Solar Foods, a spin-out of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and LUT University, has begun development of a factory to grow protein out of microbes cultured with electricity and air.

Solein is produced via a bioprocess where microbes are fed with gases (carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen) and small amounts of nutrients. The process resembles winemaking, the company says, with carbon dioxide and hydrogen replacing sugar as the source of carbon and energy. The product can be used as a structure-forming ingredient, for example in alternative dairy and meat, different snacks and beverages, noodles and pasta, or breads and spreads in replacing meat, dairy, and egg.

The Solar Foods production facility, called Factory 01, is set to begin construction in Q4 2021 in Vantaa, Finland. The company estimates commercial production will begin in the first half of 2023 and Factory 01 will serve as Solar Foods' platform for scaling up production.

At the facility’s Experience Hub, visitors can learn how the company's protein powder is made and how it can be used in various foods.

Solein is designed to supplement the nutritional profile of plant-based products and enabling them to replace animal-based foods without compromising nutritional value. So far, the company has developed more than 20 different food products that use Solein in varying proportions.

With land use and agriculture making up 24% of global emissions, according to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global carbon footprint could be significantly reduced with the large-scale adoption of factory-grown protein, the spin-out claims.

Solein’s qualities and use in different foods have been tested in a pilot factory for nearly two years. The factory will enable a larger scale of operations, allowing the company to commercialise Solein and move towards industrial production.

"Today we’re at a similar crossroads with the food system as we were in the mid-1980s with information and communication technology", Pasi Vainikka, CEO, Solar Foods said. "VC funds and new companies are investing billions of dollars to reinvent an entire sector in the global economy: the food industry. Tectonic shifts are happening at our dinner tables. The future of food is here and happening as we speak.

"We need more sustainable ways to feed the world. What we eat has never been static: humanity has seen food revolutions from the days of the first hunter-gatherers all the way to the unsustainable industrial system of today. The fundamentals of food production have, however, always stayed the same. We’re now in the middle of the fourth agricultural revolution that is finally changing those fundamentals, and Solein is a part of it. Factory 01 will lead the way in taking the world’s most sustainable protein global".