How do you think a protein would look like if its main ingredients are carbon dioxide, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen? Just like your favourite nutritional yeast!
Yes, what seems to be something out of a sci-fi movie is actually a reality today. A Finnish company called Solar Foods is working with the European Space Agency to release first-of-its-kind vegan protein powder ‘Solein’ globally by 2021.
Solar Foods is a food tech start-up that started operations in 2018 to commercialise the research that was carried out in VTT Technical research centre of Finland and LUT University. The founding team wanted to develop a solution for turning emission-free electricity and CO2 captured from air to edible calories. The result was Solein, a unique single-cell protein born from a unique bioprocess of electricity and air.
Solar Foods claims that Solein can be used as a protein ingredient in existing foods such as bread, pasta, plantbased dairy, drinks, and can also be had between meals. It can also be used as a protein ingredient in plant based meat alternatives. With the sudden interest in cell-based meat, the use of Solein could be extended to provide the amino acid platform that real meat cells could use for growing.
How does the process work?
The carbon-neutral process begins from collection of microbes and then subjecting them to a fermenting process similar to that in breweries and wineries. During the fermentation, the liquid receives a constant supply of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, along with some other nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium etc. These are the same nutrients that plants normally absorb from the soil through their roots. After getting these nutrients in required quantities, the microbes begin to multiply, leading to thickening of the liquid, which is then continuously removed and dried. The dried powder becomes Solein. As per the company, the macronutrient composition of the cells is very similar to that of dried soy or algae.
Is Solein safe?
Solein is a unique product and it requires a novel food approval before it can be sold as food. The company says that it is generating safety and property data based on its pilot-scale production and there is no evidence to prove that Solein is not safe. It is a Complete Protein, that is, it contains all the amino acids essential to human diet.
Solar Foods and Mars Project
Besides, planning a commercial launch on our planet, Solar Foods has Mars on its roadmap too! It is working with ESABIC (European Space Agency Business Incubator) to study pre-feasibility for producing Solein during Mars mission.
Time magazine has featured Solein in the ‘Best Inventions of 2020’ list.