Solar Foods is growing food out of air

This edible protein promises a future of meat-free lasagna or dairy-free drinks made using carbon dioxide captured from the air.

The amount of land needed in order for cows to graze or for farmers to grow crops is so vast that scientists have started looking into other more sustainable methods of producing food.

We have previously highlighted how some companies like Impossible Foods in California have started making vegetarian burgers that simulate meat to the extent that they actually bleed

On the other hand, Design Indaba speaker Carolien Niebling has turned to the 5000 year-old sausage and considered how we might reduce the amount of meat we eat by using (and not bypassing) the existing meat industry. Her method involves including existing, traditional butchers in coming up with alternative food sources.

Over in Finland a team of scientists are looking into bypassing the agricultural industry completely in order to start producing an edible protein from thin air.

How Solein is produced

The team is harnessing solar energy as the cheap raw material to produce the edible protein, called Solein, from thin air. CEO and co-founder of SolarFoods, Dr Pasi Vainikka said that the production process is not dependent on climate, weather or agriculture.

Vainikka and his team use solar electricity to split water cells to produce hydrogen. Then they add carbon dioxide and nutrients such as potassium, sodium, and phosphorus. This is then fed into microbes derived from the soil to produce food. 

The end product looks and tastes like wheat flour, with 50 per cent protein, up to 10 per cent sugar and about 25 per cent carbohydrates. The production of Solein uses considerably less water and land than meat or soy farming would. 


The SolarFoods team say that if everything goes according to plan, food products should be in grocery stores within the next two years.

Since the process of producing Solein is completely disconnected from agriculture, the team is also working with the European Space Agency to see if this could be a renewable food source for astronauts.

SolarFoods is a 2019 finalist for the Index Awards.

More on the future of food: 

Carolien Niebling on creating the sausage of the future

Memphis Meats is at the forefront of kill-free meat

Grow edible algae at home