Startup Of The Week

Startup Of The Week: Solar Foods

Solar Foods, a Finnish startup, has found a way to make food ingredients, plant-based meat alternatives and cultured meat from air, electricity and Co2, an approach that promises to significantly reduce the environmental impact of food production. It has already partnered with Finland’s Fazer Group and is interested in teaming with other big food companies.

The startup’s platform plans to focus on three segments: protein ingredients for packaged foods such as breads, pasta and dairy, plant-based meat alternatives and as a culture medium for real meat production from cells.“We can create a ready made lasagna— from the pasta, to the sauce to the meat — without the consumer ever knowing how the physics behind it were provided,” says Solar Foods CEO Pasi Vainikka.

Inspired by NASA and Soviet Union space program and further developed by VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and LUT University, Solar Foods produces a single-cell protein called Solein, using a natural fermentation process similar to that used in the production of yeast or lactic acid bacteria. Its amino acid composition compares well with known protein sources such as soybean and beef, the company says. And, it has the added advantage of binding Co2 instead of causing it.

The adoption of its technology could have an important impact on climate change as an estimated 20% of global greenhouse gas food production and land use are caused by global greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of habitable land is consumed by livestock. Solar Foods claims that its process uses 100 times less water than plant production and up to 500 times less then the production of beef.

The idea is to separate food production from agriculture and cattle raising, says Vainikka, the former head of VTT’s Neo Carbon Energy division. It was through his division’s research that the idea for a proof-of-concept of developing food from thin air was established. Solar Foods “is an example of a type of solution that is emerging more and more in the field of tech from the intersection of different disciplines,” he says.

Solar Foods CEO Vasi Vainikki

Other startups — such as Air Protein in the U.S. — are also trying to develop food from thin air.

Solar Foods has applied for necessary approvals from the European Food Safety Authority. Subject to the timing of approvals, it plans to build its first factory and go to market by late 2021 or early 2022. It is currently fund raising and looking for partners, says Vainikka. He says he believes Solar Foods can quickly provide Finland with 4% of the protein eaten by the population.

“We see foods as platforms for our protein,” says Vainikki. “In order to scale the technology we will need to be included in a lot of consumer products, therefore we are planning on taking a B2B approach and are very interested in partnering with food companies.”

In September Solar Foods announced a partnership with Fazer Group, a 128-year-old Finnish food company, to do research on Solein’s applicability into different food applications. In a statement Fazer said it was entering into the agreement with Solar Foods as a way of reaching four ambitious sustainability core goals that it has set for itself by 2030: 50% less emissions, 50% less food waste, 100% sustainably sourced and more plant-based.

Solar Foods won an Index Award in September from Denmark for developing the most impactful solution significant to the environment and improving people’s lives.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.