Interview with Pasi Vainikka

Solar Foods disconnects food production chain from agriculture. We transform air and electricity into a protein. That is how we differ from all the food companies on the market today.

If we wish to comply with the Paris Agreement targets for limiting greenhouse gas emission it is not enough to only change the energy system. The energy sector is responsible for about 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emission, and the remaining quarter originates from the food system. We have to change what we eat and how we eat. Especially considering the increasing global population.  

My route as a tough tech entrepreneur started a few years back. I was in charge of the largest renewable energy research program “Neo-Carbon Energy” at VTT. At the same time, my co-founder to be Juha-Pekka Pitkänen was running the research in biotech. We took a very futuristic approach and looked further – what is there you can eat in the future carbon neutral world? And the answer was that the carbon neutral electricity like solar energy is the new primary energy. Hence, if you still need carbon, for whatever reasons, carbon dioxide is a convenient source of carbon, you just have to turn it into fuel or food. Then you may end up with the eatable calories (single cell protein) in a lab using only water, electricity, carbon dioxide, and bacteria who does all the work. That is what we do. Simple.

As an end result from our “protein brewery” we have a powder which contains 50-60% of protein. It is very similar to soy or algae – the superfood. Therefore, there are 3 possible ways for us to enter the consumer market. First would be to integrate it into existing food products such as bread, pasta or plant-based dairy products, secondly, we could provide a protein source for plant-based meat alternatives, thirdly, to provide the growth medium amino acids for cultured meat production. We are aiming to build our own production plant, a “demonstrator”, already by 2021. Recently, we scaled up the production one thousand times from a coffee cup size and aim to do another 1000x for the factory

Everybody wants to save the planet but everyone is equally skeptical about the new ways of food production. So far the biggest challenges were in the very beginning when founding the company but we know that the most exciting and challenging parts are right behind the corner. It is a new level of experience to introduce completely new food ingredient to the customers globally. Now there is a lot of interest in new food, especially in the US. Also, there is a lot of interest from the general public and media for sustainable food and diets.

As we can make food without agriculture we can also do it in space!  We have promised to develop a concept for the European Space Agency with an eye on solving the food problem for Mars missions. Let’s see! We are an absolutely new ingredient. Even in space. Space is an extreme condition where you need to recirculate everything. The only thing which is constant there is solar power

New technologies and solutions are bringing hope to people and they will have a massive impact on humanity.


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