Q: What does Solar Foods do?
Solar Foods is a Finnish food technology company on a mission to revolutionise global food production. Solar Foods produces natural protein, Solein®, using carbon dioxide and electricity. It is a groundbreaking novel food which doesn’t require agriculture, or land in general, to grow. Without the limitations of traditional farming, this method of food production has the potential to transform the sustainability, availability and transparency of what we eat and where food can be produced.
Solar Foods received their first novel food regulatory approval for sale of this new product on 29 September 2022 in Singapore from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
Q: What is the status of development now?
Our next steps are continuing food product development, finalising Factory 01 construction, as well as growing the platform to shape the future food revolution.
Solar Foods is operating a pilot plant in Espoo, Finland where the technology has been scaled up a thousandfold since 2018. With a capacity of 1 kg of Solein® a day, the pilot plant is built to be a complete small-scale replica of the future full-scale factory.
Solar Foods is constructing its first commercial production facility, Factory 01, ten minutes from the Helsinki airport in Finland. The company estimates the commercial production of Solein® will begin in 2024 and Factory 01 will be the platform for Solar Foods’ to scale up production.
Solar Foods’ Solein® received its first novel food regulatory approval in September 2022 in Singapore from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). This allows for the sale of food products containing Solein® in Singapore. Solar Foods has filed for novel food dossier for Solein in other key markets such as the EU and UK and plans to seek GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status assessment for Solein in the United States.
Solein has already been available for purchase for ordinary consumers: the Singaporean restaurant Fico sold a Solein Chocolate Gelato for a limited period, from 15th of June to end of October 2023. As we are currently producing Solein continuously on a small scale, this was a very limited edition. In 2024, Solar Foods’ Factory 01 will increase Solein production capacity and bringing Solein to market in other food products starts to get closer.
Q: What is Solein®?
Solar Foods’ Solein® is a unique microbial protein (microbial protein-rich powder): a food produced without farming or fossil fuels. It is a revolutionary leap in food science and presents all of humanity an opportunity to reap a previously undiscovered harvest.
Solein® is created by a fermentation process that utilises air and electricity as its primary resources. Based on a lifecycle analysis study, as a protein source, Solein’s comparative greenhouse gas emissions are approximately 1% that of meat protein and about 20% of plant protein production. It also takes just a fraction of the amount of water to produce Solein in comparison.
Solein® production is independent of weather and climate conditions, liberating global protein production from the limits of traditional agriculture. It can be produced in harsh environments, such as desert and Arctic areas or even outer space, where traditional food production is not possible.
Q: How does the production of Solein work?
The original single-cell microorganisms used in Solein were collected from Finnish nature, where they are abundant. The microbes are cultured and grown with air and electricity as the primary resources in a fermentor akin to the ones used in breweries and wineries.
The Solein microbes are put in a liquid – called a growth medium – within the fermentor. The liquid is continuously supplied with small bubbles of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. They are also fed nutrients including nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, which are the same nutrients that plants normally source through their roots from the soil. The microbes eat these ingredients to grow and multiply.
As the liquid grows thicker, some of the slurry is continuously removed and dried. The resulting dried powder is Solein®, which is made up of whole cells that are up to 70% protein. The macronutrient composition of the cells is very similar to that of dried soy or algae.
Q: Solar Foods’ solution for protein production sounds artificial. Is it?
Solein consists of single-cell microorganisms and it is found in nature just like other crops, even though it is not harvested by traditional means.
The diversity of nature is more varied than meets the eye. Solein has probably been around in nature longer than the foods we consume today. We just have not been able harvest it before. It is not a plant nor an animal. Instead, Solein is, single-cell microbe in its most natural form.
Solein is a novel food, meaning it is food that hasn’t been used commercially before.
Q: Can you really produce food only from air?
All the main ingredients – carbon (CO2), hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen – can be captured from the air. The microorganisms feed on those ingredients. About 5 percent of the end-product consists of inorganic nutrients, such as phosphorus and calcium, which cannot be taken from the air.
Q: What is the chemical composition of Solein?
Solein cells, like all other living material on planet Earth, are comprised of carbon (46% of weight in Solein), hydrogen (6.5%), oxygen (25%) and nitrogen (12%). Also, Solein production requires some minerals to provide elements, such as sulphur, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium, and sodium – approximately 20 elements that are essential to life. These are elements that plant roots would ingest from the soil. In a full air-capture concept for Solein production, C, H, O, and N are all sourced from the air, while nutrient minerals still need to be sourced from added nutrients.
Q: What is the source of nitrogen in Solein?
The source of nitrogen for Solein is ammonia (NH3) as an ammonium (NH4+) water solution in the growth medium. Solein factories have been planned to include their own green ammonia production through the Haber-Bosch synthesis. If ammonia production is not done locally, green ammonia is sourced from the market.
For the time being, the figures reported for Solein’s environmental impact assume the use of ammonia produced with natural gas. About 20% of the remaining climate impact reported for Solein production is due to the use of ammonia.
Q: Does the production of Solein consume a lot of energy?
Solein’s biggest footprint comes from the use of electricity, which is used to split water to hydrogen and oxygen to feed the microorganisms. The electricity used for Solein production must be from a source that does not involve the burning of fossil fuels. Globally, these sources are solar, wind, hydro or nuclear power. At our first commercial factory we have committed to the use of wind power sourced from the Nordic electricity market.
With current technologies the efficiency of converting electricity to calories is about 20%. Compared to plants, by hectare, the yield in Solein is 10 times more than photosynthetic plants. This holds true even if the electricity for Solein production came from solar panels (which require a sizeable amount of land area). Theoretically speaking, looking at our home country of Finland, if all the calories that Finns consume came from Solein, the entire food production of the nation would require 10% of the primary energy use of Finland and one-third of the electricity consumed today.
Q: Does the rising price of electricity affect your ability to produce Solein cost-effectively?
No. We aim to use renewable electricity sources that are not susceptible to those supply and market risks fossil fuels have. The current fossil fuel crisis affecting Europe underscores the benefits of turning to renewable energy. Current high energy and electricity prices in Europe are due to our fossil fuel dependency, not renewable energy sources.
Q: How ecological is Solein?
Based on a lifecycle analysis study, Solein’s environmental impact is about 10% of most plant-based proteins and about 1% of meat. To the best of our knowledge, Solein is the most sustainable protein in the world.
Q: Does Solein production remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?
Solein production does not permanently sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it stores it only for a short time. Therefore, it can not be considered a carbon sequestration technology but instead close to carbon neutral. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere with direct air capture (DAC) technology, but once the food is consumed, the CO2 returns to the atmosphere through respiration.
If conventional plant or animal proteins are replaced by Solein this can free up land. If the land is let to rewild, it would become a net sink of carbon dioxide. This way Solein production can have a carbon negative effect.
Q: How much CO2 do you bind in this process?
1 kg of Solein requires 1.85 kg of CO2.
Q: What is it like to eat foods made with Solein?
In short: it is like eating any of the foods you already know.
Solein’s adaptability is virtually limitless, and it can be used as protein ingredient in a wide variety of existing foods such as pasta, bread, plant-based dairy, alternative dairy and meat products, drinks, and more. Solein vanishes into foods easily making it ideal for virtually every food imaginable, sweet or savoury.
In our view, having access to an alternative natural protein should not require you to compromise your choices, or taste buds, as a consumer.
Q: What does Solein taste like?
Solein has a pleasant, delicate taste, just a note of umami and a mild aroma. It does not add or bring any distinctive taste to the final product it is added to.
The macronutrient composition of the cells is very similar to that of dried soy or algae, but it is more versatile since the taste and smell are not as distinct. This is good news since many of the alternative proteins in the market have an unpleasant taste, which needs to be masked in the final food products.
Q: How is Solein meant to be used in foods?
Solein is meant to be used as an ingredient by the food industry. Food brands will be able to add Solein into their products to substitute traditional ingredients or protein sources. Because Solein upgrades the nutritional profile of foods, it can be used for a wide variety of functional benefits in products ranging from drinks to yoghurts and noodles or pasta to alternative meat or dairy.
Q: Is it ok for anyone to eat?
Solein is gluten-free, GMO-free, dairy-free, soy-free and vegan. It does not contain known allergens or contradict any religious dietary restrictions.
Q: Where does Solein’s yellow colour come from?
The yellow colour comes from carotenoids, which are naturally occurring pigments in Solein. An example of a familiar source of carotenoids is carrots. The yellow colour does not affect the taste.
Q: Is Solein healthy?
We do not make any health claims in comparison to other plant or meat-based protein sources. Based on the analysis done so far, Solein is an extremely diverse ingredient. It contains all the nine essential amino acids, carbohydrates, fats and minerals as any other food. Solein also provides a source of iron and B vitamins. The nutritional profile consists of 65-70 % protein, 10-15 % carbohydrates, 5-8 % fat and 3-5 % minerals.
Q: Is Solein vegan?
What is the new Taste the Future Snack Bar powered by Solein® from Fazer?
The Fazer Taste the Future Snack Bar, powered by Solein, is a chocolate snack by Finnish food experience company Fazer and launched in Singapore. It is made of 70% dark chocolate, hazelnut, dried strawberries and crunchy oat puffs. The snack bar is fortified with 2% of Solein, which gives the snack bar iron, a nutrient often in low supply in plant-based food products.
Fazer, one of Solar Foods’ major shareholders, imports products to over 40 countries; in 2022, the company had net sales of 11 billion euros. Fazer introduces innovative and sustainable food solutions as one of its strategic priorities. The new snack bar, launched under the company’s Taste the Future product category, is part of this work Fazer does in developing the future of chocolate.
How does the Fazer Taste the Future snack bar differ from other, similar products?
Fazer Taste the Future snack bar includes 2% of Solein as a fortifying ingredient, adding iron to a plant-based snack, which are usually low in this nutrient. It demonstrates how novel ingredients such as Solein could shape the future of food: familiar tastes remain but can be created with less of the stress on environment that traditional agricultural methods cause.
Solein is a versatile ingredient: it can be used as a protein ingredient in a wide variety of foods such as pasta, bread, spreads, drinks, yogurts, meat-like products and more. Solein can also be used as a nutritional fortifier, and to bring techno-functional properties into foods. In addition to protein, Solein provides a source of iron, fibre, and B vitamins. Solein vanishes into foods easily making it ideal for every food imaginable, sweet or savory.
Where can I buy the new Solein-powered snack bar?
The snack bar is available in all The Cocoa Tree stores in Singapore. This is a limited edition product so it will be available up until 18th February, 2024 as long as supplies last.
For more details on the product’s availability, be sure to check out Fazer’s website.
Why is Fazer launching the new Solein-powered snack bar in Singapore?
Solein received its first novel food regulatory approval in September 2022 in Singapore from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), clearing the sale and use of Solein in food products in the country. Singapore is also a great test ground for a product like this: the city state has a highly innovative food ecosystem and Singaporeans are passionate about food and curious to try new things.
Solein has already been available for purchase for ordinary consumers: the Singaporean restaurant Fico sold a Solein Chocolate Gelato for a limited period in 2023. This introduction with Fazer is the first time Solein is available for people to try as part of a FMCG product. As Solein is currently produced on a small scale, these first product tests are still limited editions. In 2024, Solar Foods’ Factory 01 will increase Solein production capacity: this will enable development of more Solein-powered foods and bringing them to market starts to get closer.
The Fazer Taste the Future snack bar is a limited edition product. Will it be more widely available at some point?
Solein is a novel ingredient and currently produced in small quantities. Therefore food products using Solein have so far been limited edition releases.
Solar Foods’ first commercial-scale production facility, Factory 01, is close to completion and will start production in 2024. As production volumes increase, we expect to be able to introduce Solein-powered foods in higher volume to the market. So stay tuned!
Q: Does Solein contain all the essential amino acids?
Yes, it does. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the human body needs but cannot produce in sufficient amounts on its own, meaning we need to source them from what we eat. Solein contains all the nine amino acids essential to the human diet: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Q: Does Solein resolve global environmental problems and hunger?
Based on scientific evidence, Solein is the most sustainable protein in the world. If it would replace meat in the human diet, the carbon footprint of what we eat would hugely diminish and a significant part of the climate crisis could be solved.
Solein production does not require arable land and it is very efficient in water use. Therefore, Solein can provide nourishment for water-scarce areas and regions bereft of agricultural land and suitable farming conditions. It could be farmed in Antarctica or in the Sahara, paving the way to resolving global environmental problems and hunger. We are not proposing that people would live on Solein alone though; Solein can help lower the carbon emissions of food production, but other solutions are also needed for a sustainable planet.
Q: Solein received its first novel food approval in Singapore. Why did you choose to take Solein to Singapore first?
Singapore has an efficient and progressive handling of novel food dossiers in the world. We have submitted applications for novel food to global key markets and the rest will follow later.
Singapore is a global living laboratory for new foods and food technologies owing very much to its unique food heritage that melts together Malay, South Chinese, Indian and Western cooking traditions. It is also a highly interesting market for Solein as it resonates well with what Solein represents: Singapore has a technologically advanced society, a keen interest for technological innovation, high level of education, ambitious environmental targets and strategies to increase its locally produced food supply.
Q: Why does Solein need approval from food authorities before it can be sold?
Every novel food or ingredient goes through official approval processes and tests by local authorities before it can be sold or used in a food product. This is a standard procedure and ensures that Solein is 100% safe for all consumers.
Solein® received its first novel food regulatory approval in September 2022 in Singapore.
Q: When can we buy Solein?
Solein was available for ordinary consumers to enjoy for the first time when the Singaporean restaurant Fico was selling Solein Chocolate Gelato from 15th of June to end of October 2023. As we are currently producing Solein continuously on a small scale, this was just a very limited edition.
We aim to make Solein available to food producers in 2024. Food brands looking to replace traditional ingredients or protein sources in their products with more sustainable alternatives would then introduce Solein to consumers.
With expanded production capacity the cost will also see a significant drop. The small production volume Solar Foods is operating with now allows for moderate production volumes of limited-edition products, but in 2024, Solar Foods’ Factory 01 will increase Solein production capacity to allow for wider distribution and stronger market penetration.
On 30th of May 2023, Solar Foods and the Japanese food and biotechnology company Ajinomoto announced a strategic alliance that includes the development of products using Solein and a marketability study in Singapore, set to begin on Q1 2024.
Q: Is Solein meant to be served only in restaurants by food professionals in Singapore?
No, Solein will be available also for food brands who produce daily food products available in supermarkets. Solein is a versatile and functional ingredient so it will be possible to utilize in a wide variety of dishes, recipes and products within the food industry – both by food brands and the hospitality & restaurant sector.
Q: Which market area you heading towards next?
Solar Foods is seeking GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status assessment for Solein soon in the United States, and applications for novel food authorisation have been filed earlier in other key markets such as the UK and the European Union.
Local agencies work in different ways in each market and unfortunately, we cannot say with certainty which one will grant the next approval for Solein.
Q: Has the recent energy crisis in Europe affected your company’s plans?
No. We aim to use renewable electricity sources that are not susceptible to those supply and market risks fossil fuels have. The current fossil fuel crisis affecting Europe underscores the benefits of turning to renewable energy. Current high energy and electricity prices in Europe are due to our fossil fuel dependency, not renewable energy sources. Therefore the price of electricity does not affect our ability to produce Solein cost-effectively.
Q: What makes Solein so unique and special?
Solein is natural, nutritious, versatile and sustainable.
Having existed longer than any of our other foods, Solein is as natural a protein as they come. Solein contains the nutrients of both plant and animal-based foods, with no downsides. It can be an ingredient in all the dishes you know and love. Solein is also the world’s most sustainable protein with comparative greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 20% of plant protein and 1% of meat.
Q: Are there similar products in the market?
No. Solein is the first food ingredient of its kind, made with gas fermentation. It is the first edible protein that doesn’t require sugar or another solid feedstock to produce it but instead abundant carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
In the future similar products will be introduced to the market, but Solein is furthest along its development process as it is already a tried and tested, commercially available, all-purpose protein.
Q: Is Solein space food and made for astronauts?
Primarily, Solein is meant to be enjoyed on Earth, but due to its production method and nutritional richness Solein is excellently suitable for space food. With cutting-edge technology, Solein can be used by astronauts in space, where the possibilities to prepare food are challenging and limited.
Q: What is Solar Foods doing in space?
Space missions face a similar food-related challenge as arid or Arctic areas of our planet: maintaining a secure supply of nourishment in conditions where agriculture is not possible.
At Solar Foods, we are solving the challenge by discovering how to grow Solein during a space mission. We are recreating our process to fit smaller confines and the results so far show it can be done. Our Space & Resilience work aims to help take humanity deeper into space while developing Solein production for extreme conditions here on Earth.
Solar Foods is taking part in the Deep Space Food Challenge by NASA and CSA, an initiative that works to find ways to produce food on space missions. In 2021, we were declared one of the international winners of Phase I of the challenge. We have also co-operated with ESABIC (European Space Agency Business Incubator) to study pre-feasibility for producing Solein during a Mars mission.