Protein Startup Solar Foods Wants to Skip the 'Concept of Plant and Animal’

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August 8, 2019

One startup thinks that someday we'll all be eating a powdery protein called Solein that tastes like nothing.

Finland-based Solar Foods, which Crunchbase reports has raised 2 million euros thus far, uses gas fermentation to turn electricity, water, and carbon dioxide into protein by using naturally-found microbes, CEO Pasi Vainikka told Cheddar.

"When you make, for example, wine, you use yeast that eats sugar. Now our microbe, which also sits in a liquid, doesn't eat sugar, but it eats, actually, small bubbles of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen we can make with electricity from water and carbon dioxide we can capture from the air," he explains. "By this way, we can skip the whole process of photosynthesis, and the concept of plant and animal."

The bizarre protein source was designed to help with an eye toward human space travel to Mars. The company says the product was originally conceptualized through a NASA space program and further incubated through research at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the country's Lappeenranta University of Technology.

Today Solar Foods is collaborating with the European Space Agency.

Still, Vainikka says we won't have to wait for a trip to the red planet to try its protein. Here on Earth, it has potential to be used as an ingredient in plant-based meat alternatives, like those produced by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

"You can incorporate this protein into grit, or different kinds of plant-based drinks, shakes, pasta, and so on, like plant-based dairy," he explained.

"It doesn't have any taste, or hardly any taste, and that's good news for us," said Vainikka, explaining that a neutral flavor allows Solar Foods to more easily integrate its protein into products familiar with consumers. And because there are fewer inputs, Solar Foods says it could be better for the environment than agriculture-based protein sources.

"We don't have to wait for seasons, but we can scale up production and double production by just adding another reactor," he added. "It is like a brewery, so we don't really have to invent any new technologies. The magic is in the natural organism, the recipe, and how it's grown."