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Solein – Yet Another Impossible Food From The Minds Of Boffins

So another day, another wonderous technological development. Solein, from Finnish startup Solar Foods, is being billed as a ‘nutritious protein made out of thin air’. Whoa, that’s just what we need to feed the hungry billions. The marketing is extremely slick. There’s lots of gorgeous shots of food, processed product and laboratory stuff, all wrapped in some enticing copywriting. The concept is pretty simple. Take some random microbe, add in carbon (CO2), nitrogen and a couple of other bits, mix it all toghether at the right temperature and voila – a high density food protein powder.

Solein Is The Latest Tech Food Concept

The devil is in the details of course. Regular readers will remember we featured a similar Austrian project back in 2015 called Ecoduna. The project involved a very sophisticated closed loop CO2 and algae production system, which turned waste carbon into beneficial material like Spirulina and other nutraceuticals. That team also used a bioreactor (they called it a Photobioreactor or PBR) and there’s no doubt it worked and produced material on demand. However after seven years the original grand ambitions have now been scaled back significantly. Maybe there’s a lesson for the Finns here?

Solar Foods don’t help themselves by relying on gushing marketing blurb like this –

Solein, protein out of thin air, is not a plant nor an animal. It originates from a natural, non-modified, single-cell organism. It is nonetheless a completely natural protein, even though it is not grown traditionally. Solein offers endless possibilities for the food industry and the nutritious, tasty and sustainable foods of tomorrow.”

It sizzles a little on the too good to be true meter. Anyway, nowadays marketing style is a necessity for cutting through the crowd, and we can’t blame them – too much – for succumbing to the lure of exposure and funding. The bottom line is this kind of very high tech production requires large quantities of expert personnel, equipment and environmental control.  It’s not as simple as blowing some air into a test tube and making food. And scaling can be an absolute nightmare. We wish them well, but won’t be holding our breath until the first powder product hits the shelves.

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