Finnish Firm Produces Meals From Thin Air

Solar Pasta

An innovative new food product may seem unremarkable at first glance. Ravioli made from solein, a protein produced by Finnish firm Solar Foods, carries the familiar taste and texture of customary pasta. Yet, this product marks a significant departure – its unique origins lie in Europe’s inaugural factory producing food from electricity and air.

Solar Foods’ facility in Vantaa, near Helsinki, aims for an annual production capacity of 160 tonnes, scaling up from successful laboratory trials. Regulatory approval is pending in various markets, with Singapore having granted solein novel food status. Should the UK regulator overcome hurdles posed by cannabis-related product applications, consumers may see solein-based goods by late 2025.

Solar Foods’ CEO, Pasi Vainikka, envisions a revolutionary shift in human diet. This venture arises from the pressing need to address the substantial environmental impact of food production. With agriculture and related industries contributing approximately one-quarter of global emissions, and a growing demand for meat, the problem is set to worsen. Sourcing protein from sources like solein could mitigate these pressures.

Solein, a yellowish powder containing single-cell organisms, offers versatile use in meat substitutes, dairy products, and as an egg substitute. Its potential to boost iron intake makes it particularly appealing to vegans. While the initial focus falls on processed foods, the company remains secretive about the exact origin of its microbe, citing a Baltic Sea location.

The production process replaces traditional plant-based food sources. Solar energy powers water electrolysis, supplying microbes with oxygen and hydrogen in a fermenter. The company also captures carbon dioxide, ostensibly for the microbe process. It is important to note that while “food from air” has some merit, mineral supplements comprise a small but necessary component.

Solar Foods underscores the potential to reduce land usage associated with animal feed and pasture. This could translate into significant carbon sequestration opportunities. However, critics note that US farmers already achieve relatively high soybean yields per hectare, and the long-term environmental benefits of solein require extensive and rigorous assessment.

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