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.
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. See the process in our video: Demystifying The Bioprocess
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: 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: 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.
Read more about Solein’s chemical composition from this blog by our CTO, Dr Juha-Pekka Pitkänen
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.
A closer look at the role of nitrogen and ammonia in the Solein bioprocess in our blog
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. Read more about Solein’s footprint compared to other proteins
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?
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: When can we buy Solein?
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.
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: Can I already buy Solein in Singapore?
No, not yet. Our first commercial-scale facility, Factory 01, is set to begin production in 2024. We are working with food brands to make Solein available as a food ingredient in their products in the same year.
Q: Is there more specific information available regarding Solein and making products from it?
You can request more information by contacting us at email@example.com. You can stay up to date by joining our mailing list, where we cover the latest progress of Solein and look at the landscape and future of global protein production.
Q: I represent a food brand – can I get Solein samples?
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Q: Are you looking for new distributors?
If you are a distributor and interested in what Solein could offer your brand, contact us at email@example.com.
We are not yet in the market, but we are systematically working towards it.
In the meantime, you can follow our news and social media channels (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to hear what we are up to. You can also stay up to date by joining our mailing list.
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.
Read more about solving food crises from Mars missions to arid deserts by our SVP Space & Defense, Arttu Luukanen.