Solar Foods

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Solar Foods Oy (Solar Foods Ltd)
Founded2017; 4 years ago (2017)[1]
FounderJuha-Pekka Pitkänen, Pasi Vainikka, Sami Holmström, Jero Ahola, Janne Mäkelä, Jari Tuovinen[2]
HeadquartersHelsinki, Finland[1]
Key people
Pasi Vainikka, CEO[1]

Solar Foods is a Finnish food-tech startup that is pilot testing a technology that uses electricity to produce hydrogen which is combined with carbon dioxide, water, vitamins and minerals to feed and grow a microbial biomass that can be used as edible protein.[3] The company was founded in 2017.[4][5]

Solar Foods is developing processes to manufacture protein powder called Solein that can be used as a protein ingredient in food production, and plans to license its technology.[2]


Solar Foods is a spin-off company. Its original idea is based on a joint research project focusing on renewable energy, carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT.[6] In summer 2017, when the research group announced having succeeded in producing food out of air, it received publicity also internationally.[4] The company was founded the same year by D.Sc. (Tech.) Pasi Vainikka and D.Sc. (Tech.) Juha-Pekka Pitkänen together with Sami Holmström, Jero Ahola, Jari Tuovinen and Janne Mäkelä.[4] The company aimed at starting the first phase of commercial protein production during 2021[6] at a factory with an estimated annual capacity of 100 tonnes of protein.[7]

By spring 2018, Solar Foods had raised €800,000 in seed funding for building a pilot plant. The principal investor was Lifeline Ventures and other investors included, for example, VTT Ventures and Green Campus Innovations, a cleantech seed investor operating on the LUT campus. Additionally, the company received a product development loan of over one million euros from Business Finland. Solar Foods began to build a bioreactor tank with a production capacity of 1 kg of microbes per day. The company's previous bioreactor had been about the size of a coffee cup.[4] That autumn, Solar Foods was selected for the Business Incubation Programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). The company's goal was to develop a system for producing food on Mars.[8][9] A 40-litre bioreactor is able to produce enough protein for a six-member crew.[10] The company had three employees.[4]

In March 2019, Solar Foods received a €50,000 grant from the Bank of Åland's Baltic Sea Project.[11] That spring, Solar Foods started its pilot plant, which produces protein that is used to develop new products together with a host of partners.[12] In summer, the company announced its plan to build a bigger protein factory with a capacity of approximately 6,000 tonnes a year. The final decision to build will be made once the company has gained sufficient operating experience from the smaller plant.[7] In September 2019, Fazer Group and Solar Foods announced having entered into partnership for developing the Solein protein together. The partnership was part of a financing round that brought Solar Foods €3.5 million as convertibles from Oy Karl Fazer Ab, Holdix Oy Ab, Turret Oy Ab and Lifeline Ventures.[8]

By April 2020, the company had raised a total of €4.3 million in funding.[2] In summer, the pilot plant produced 300 grams of protein a day, and Solar Foods announced plans to open, within the next couple of years, a new plant that would be a hundredfold bigger than the its current plant. That could again be scaled up to factory size, that is, to a plant the size of a football field. According to the company, Solein factories could be built in areas that are not suitable for food production with current methods, but that have solar or wind energy potential, such as the Sahara desert, arctic regions and space. The company said that by the end of 2022, it would bring to market a total of 20 different consumer products that could be used as breakfast ingredients or as substitutes for dairy products or meat.[13]

In April 2021, Finnish Climate Fund gave Solar Foods a 10 million euro capital loan.[14]

Product idea[edit]

Solar Foods develops protein using air and electricity.[11] The production method is based on research carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and LUT University. The idea behind producing food mostly from air with electricity originates from the 1960s.[8]

The product is made by extracting carbon dioxide (CO
) from the atmosphere and combining it with water, hydrogen, nutrients and vitamins.[5] The protein is produced using electricity under contained conditions inside a metallic bioreactor.[12] Electricity is needed for the process, particularly producing the hydrogen, but solar energy from Fortum (its partner) is used.[5] The microbes utilised in the protein production process are hydrogenotrophs.[12][5]

The environmentalist George Monbiot has claimed the product could have a revolutionary impact on food production.[15] [16] In 2019 Solar Foods told it was aiming at developing carbon neutral food production so that agriculture would no longer be needed to produce food and the land freed from agriculture could be reforested and converted into carbon sinks. According to them this would also reduce agricultural nutrient pollution and subsequent water supply problems.[11] The company claims the land efficiency for Solar Foods methods would be about 20,000 times greater than for conventional farming.[15] In 2020, Michael Le Page for the New Scientist took a more sceptical view, noting that the x20,000 improvement only applies to the factories themselves. If land use for Solar panels is taken into account, then land efficiency only improves by about x10. Despite his doubts over how beneficial the technology will be overall, Le Page stated that "the potential rewards are so immense that we should be pouring vast sums of money into finding out."[17]

Solein product[edit]

Solar Foods Ltd. manufactures Solein, single cell protein.[18] Solein is vegan, and the finished product contains approximately 65 percent protein, 20–25 percent carbohydrates and 5–10 percent fats. Solein also contains small amounts of essential chemical elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The carbon dioxide emissions from single cell cultivation are a hundred times lower than from meat production and ten times lower than from crop production.[10]

The protein produced by Solar Foods is similar to that used in the Quorn products.[4] The characteristics of Solein are similar to those of soy and dried algae.[10] It is said to be very mild, and when added to a pancake base, it tastes a bit like egg,[10] which means that it could be used in various kinds of food products,[19] such as plant-based yoghurts, smoothies, bread or pasta, or as an ingredient in plant-based meat substitutes.[20][7] Solar Foods has intended to apply for novel-food approval from the European Food Safety Authority EFSA so that Solein could be used for human consumption.[4] The protein could also be used in animal feed.[21]

A protein made from air is told to be cheaper than animal protein.[13] In 2019, the company predicted its products would become more cost efficient than the then cheapest source of protein (soya from South America) by about 2025.[15]


Other companies aiming to produce protein using hydrogenotrophs include Air Protein based in the USA and Deep Branch in the UK.[5]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2019, Solar Foods received prominent recognition. It received

  • the Index Award, financed by the state of Denmark and worth €100,000,[22] dubbed the "Nobel Prize of design" and awarded to solutions addressing issues vital for the global future, such as food production, plastic pollution and equality[23]
  • the Pentti Malaska Futures Award, worth €30,000[24]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kauppalehti. "Solar Foods Oy | Yritys- ja taloustiedot | Kauppalehti". Tärkeimmät talousuutiset | Kauppalehti (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  2. ^ a b c Lappalainen, Elina. "Virtuaalitodellisuutta, kvanttitietokoneita, uusia materiaaleja ja laite kuvankäsittelyyn – Tässä ovat Suomen 10 lupaavimmat startup-yritykset 2020" [Virtual reality, quantum computers, new materials and device for image processing - Here are Finland's 10 most promising startups in 2020]. Talouselämä (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  3. ^ "VTT: Hiili ei olekaan pelkkää saastetta – hiilidioksidin uusiokäytöllä valmistetuilla tuotteilla ilmastonmuutoksen kannalta suotuisia vaikutuksia" [VTT: Carbon is not just pollution - products made with carbon dioxide reuse have a positive effect on climate change]. Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Lappalainen, Elina. "Kohta sinäkin voit nauttia ilmasta valmistettua proteiinia - Solar Foods -startup hakee elintarvikelupaa" [Soon also you can enjoy protein made from the air - Solar Foods -startup applies for a food permit]. Talouselämä (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  5. ^ a b c d e Lascelles, Alice (29 May 2020). "Can making food from CO2 help our overburdened planet?". Financial Times. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b Rautiainen, Miina. "Ilmasta proteiinia tuottava suomalainen Solar Foods pääsi osaksi Euroopan avaruusjärjestön yrityshautomoa – tavoitteena kehittää järjestelmä ruoan valmistukseen Marsissa" [Finnish Solar Foods, which produces protein from the air, became part of the European Space Agency's business incubator - with the aim of developing a system for making food on Mars]. Tekniikkatalous (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  7. ^ a b c "Suomessa onnistuttiin valmistamaan proteiinia ilmasta – mullistava keksintö voi olla yksi ratkaisu maailman ruokapulaan" [Finland succeeded in producing protein from the air - a revolutionary invention could be one solution to the world's food shortage]. Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  8. ^ a b c Keränen, Matti. "Makeisista erittäin tunnettu suomalaisyhtiö liittoutuu sähköproteiinia kehittävän startupin kanssa – alkaa tehdä ilmasta ruokaa" [A Finnish company very well known for confectionery allies with a startup that develops electric protein - starts making food out of the air]. Tekniikkatalous (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  9. ^ Rautiainen, Miina. "Ilmasta proteiinia tuottava suomalainen Solar Foods pääsi osaksi Euroopan avaruusjärjestön yrityshautomoa – tavoitteena kehittää järjestelmä ruoan valmistukseen Marsissa" [Finnish Solar Foods, which produces protein from the air, became part of the European Space Agency's business incubator - with the aim of developing a system for making food on Mars]. Tekniikkatalous (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  10. ^ a b c d Oy, I.-Mediat. "Espoolaisessa bioreaktorissa pöhisee munanmakuista avaruuskiljua – suomalainen proteiini-innovaatio nappasi maailman suurimman design-palkinnon" [An Espoo-based bioreactor is making egg-flavored strong homemade brew for space - Finnish protein innovation grabbed the world's largest design award]. Ilkka-Pohjalainen (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  11. ^ a b c Virtanen, Sofia. "Ilmasta proteiinia valmistava Solar Foods sai 50 000 euron rahoituksen ja aloittaa tehtaan suunnittelutyön" [Solar Foods, which produces protein from the air, received funding of 50,000 euros and is starting design work for the plant]. Talouselämä (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  12. ^ a b c Lappalainen, Elina. "Talouselämä valitsi Suomen 10 lupaavinta startup-yritystä" [Talouselämä selected the 10 most promising startup companies in Finland]. Talouselämä (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  13. ^ a b "Uusi tapa tuottaa ruokaa on kuin tieteiselokuvasta! Ravintoa ilmasta tuottava espoolaisyritys tarjoaa ratkaisua maailman ruokapulaan" [A new way to produce food is like a science fiction movie! The Espoo-based company that produces food from the air offers a solution to the world's food shortage]. (in Finnish). 2020-07-22. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  14. ^ Finnish Climate Fund’s first investment target Solar Foods strives to achieve significant emissions reductions in food production Finnish Climate Fund, 2021
  15. ^ a b c George Monbiot (September 24, 2019). "Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet". The Guardian. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  16. ^ Apocalypse Cow (Channel 4 2019 documentary)
  17. ^ Michael Le Page (January 10, 2020). "Can we really save the planet by making food 'from air' without farms?". New Scientist. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  18. ^ "This company wants to help cut meat's carbon footprint". Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  19. ^ Virtanen, Matti. "Ruokaa ilmasta, suuri harppaus ja Suomen suurin ilmastoteko – Porissa ratkottiin ilmastonmuutosta" [Food from the air, a big leap and Finland's biggest climate action - Climate change was discussed in Pori]. Talouselämä (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  20. ^ "Onko sci-fi leffojen maailma jo täällä? Espoolainen yritys valmistaa ruokaa ilmasta bakteerien ja aurinkosähkön avulla! – "Sitä voi olla lisukkeena leivässä tai jugurtissa"" [Is the world of sci-fi movies already here? The Espoo-based company makes food from the air with the help of bacteria and solar electricity! - "It may be added to bread or yoghurt"]. (in Finnish). 2019-03-21. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  21. ^ "VTT:n raportti: Uusiokäytetystä hiilidioksidista voidaan valmistaa jopa ruokaa – Tutkija: "En osaa sanoa, miltä näyttäisivät kauppojen hyllyillä"" [VTT report: Recycled carbon dioxide can even be used to make food - Researcher: “I can't say what it would look like on store shelves”]. (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  22. ^ "Ruokaa ilmasta tuottava suomalaisyhtiö sai maailman suurimman design-palkinnon" [The Finnish company, which produces food from the air, received the world's largest design award]. Yle Uutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  23. ^ "Solar Foods palkittiin taas – arvokas tunnustus Tanskasta" [Solar Foods was awarded again - a valuable recognition from Denmark]. Kemia-lehti (in Finnish). 2019-09-08. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  24. ^ "Pentti Malaska -tulevaisuuspalkinto Solar Foods Oy:lle" [Pentti Malaska Future Award for Solar Foods Oy]. (in Finnish). 2019-06-13. Retrieved 2020-10-08.

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