Food Made From “Thin Air” Now a Reality
Sun, April 18, 2021

Food Made From “Thin Air” Now a Reality

Finland-based company Solar Foods has successfully produced a protein powder made from “thin air,” which is similar in form to wheat flour. It lacks taste, just as the scientists intended so it can serve as a neutral additive to other foods / Photo by: Maria Melchior via 123RF

 

Finland-based company Solar Foods has successfully produced a protein powder made from “thin air,” which is similar in form to wheat flour. It lacks taste, just as the scientists intended so it can serve as a neutral additive to other foods.


Solein Protein Flour

In a report published by BBC, scientists called the protein flour 'Solein'. Since it is neutral in flavor, it can be used for making bread, sauces, noodles, biscuits, pasta, ice cream, and pies just like how palm oil is used in baking. The flour-like ingredient contains 20 to 25% carbs, 5 to 10% fat, and 50% protein. The protein flour can likewise nourish cattle instead of them eating soya grown on rainforest land.

The researchers shared that they produced Solein by first extracting carbon dioxide (Co2) from the air using their carbon-capture technology. Then, they combined it with vitamins, nutrients, and water using renewable solar energy from their partner Fortum, known as a clean energy company. The purpose of the process is to promote fermentation like the method used when producing lactic acid bacteria and yeast.

The Finnish scientists went on to say that if the electricity used in creating Solein protein flour comes from wind and solar power, this means that foods can be grown with “near-zero” emissions in the future. They believe that if their goals are realized, it can help solve problems related to farming.

In 2017, NovoNutrients also transformed industrial waste carbon dioxide into fish feeds. For the company, it is their way of turning a waste product into something valuable. Their process requires using carbon dioxide plus other emissions to feed into microbes, which then become proteins that can be turned into pellets of food for fishes. NovoNutrients believes that the process is cheaper because you just capture the Co2 emissions than catch fish to turn into fishmeal.

Redefining Food Production

The concept adopted by Solar Food has redefined the very foundation of food production as it is not dependent on climate, weather, and agriculture. The price of the protein flour also has the potential to compete with soy protein. Counting the recent round of investment, the company has already attracted €5.5m. They also expect that the cost of Solein can match the soya production in terms of price by 2025, but it would also depend on the price of electricity.

Solar Foods’ CEO Pasi Vainikka, who is also an adjunct professor at Lappeenranta University, said that the concept behind Solein was originally developed in the 1960s for the space industry. Although it may take a few years before their production is scaled to match the global demand, they believe that their first factory will be ready in 2025.

The concept adopted by Solar Food has redefined the very foundation of food production as it is not dependent on climate, weather, and agriculture. The price of the protein flour also has the potential to compete with soy protein / Photo by: industryview via 123RF


“Farm-Free” Food

Environmental campaigner George Monbiot has hailed the progress of the technology. While he is generally pessimistic about the future of the planet, he sees “hope” in the invention of Solar Foods that it can save both the planet and the people. We can buy time to save places and species by temporarily relying on a plant-based diet, but “farm-free” food can feed people without devouring the Earth. Monbiot shares how food production, such as through farming and fishing, has caused the loss and extinction of the abundance and diversity of wildlife.


Solar Foods’ Protein Vs. Animal Protein

RethinkX, an independent think tank that forecasts and analyzes the scale and speed of technology-driven disruption and its implications in the society, also published that proteins that are produced using precision fermentation technology will be ten times cheaper compared to animal protein by 2035. “We are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption of agriculture in history,” RethinkX’s report reads. The number of cows in the United States alone will decline by 50% in 2030. The cattle farming industry will also be “bankrupt” and other livestock industries will experience the same fate. Consequently, this will affect businesses and crop farmers.

The number of cows in the United States alone will decline by 50% in 2030. The cattle farming industry will also be “bankrupt” and other livestock industries will experience the same fate. Consequently, this will affect businesses and crop farmers / Photo by: Paul Grecaud via 123RF


Protein Supply by Region

The most standard measure of the food supply is the measurement of calories or energy. Yet, other macronutrients are also important for proper nutrition. Proteins, for instance, form the building blocks of human tissues. This is why protein intake is necessary for maintenance and growth. Citing the estimate of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the daily protein supply by world region in 2013 (recent data) are as follows: Northern America (109.13 grams of protein per person per day), Europe (102.06g), South America (86.09g), World (81.23g), Asia (77.57g), Africa (69.10g), Caribbean (68.33g).

Scientific online publication Our World in Data has likewise detailed the countries with the highest average daily per capita protein supply, including Iceland (133.54g/person/day), Lithuania (124.49g), Israel (128.14g), Maldives (122.43g), Portugal (110.88g), Finland (117.72g), Norway (110.9g), and Montenegro (112.07).

As concerns about climate change and dietary carbon footprint continue to grow, the protein powder introduced by food tech company Solar Foods may be the solution. Not only does it have practical applications, but it would also probably be the most environment-friendly protein produced so far.