Finnish startup Solar Foods, which makes a yellow, protein-packed ingredient called Solein by feeding microbes elements from the air, has raised €8 million ($8.8 million) in a Series B round carried out through the Finnish-based investment group Springvest.
Existing investors including Happiness Capital, Lifeline Ventures, VTT Ventures and Fazer Group also participated in the round via a private placement, according to a November 16 filing from Agronomics, a listed company investing in firms in the cellular agriculture space.
Solar Foods, which was founded in 2017 as a spinoff from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and LUT University, will use the capital injection to ramp up production at its demonstration facility near Helsinki, which is set to become operational in the first half of 2024 with a capacity of 120 tons/year.
“We are incredibly thankful for the trust and confidence the investor community has shown in Solar Foods. This funding is more than a financial boost: it’s a mark of confidence in the future of sustainable food solutions that Solar Foods represents. We are excited to channel these resources into our new factory and amplify our impact in the food industry,” commented Pasi Vainikka, CEO and co-founder of Solar Foods.
Solar Foods uses carbon dioxide and hydrogen instead of sugars to feed its bacteria to produce protein products. According to the company, assuming the energy-intensive parts of the process are powered by renewables, the technology has clear environmental benefits over animals for protein production like lower emissions, reduced water and land use, and the ability to locate plants nearer to the end consumer.
Solar Foods secured novel foods approval for Solein in Singapore last year and hopes to be self-GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) in the US by next summer. It has submitted a safety dossier to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) for EU approval as a novel food, and in the most optimistic scenario hopes to secure an opinion late next year.
In an interview for AgFunderNews, cofounder and CEO Pasi Vainikka explained: “Based on the process we have today, we believe we are already cost competitive against whey, pea, and soy protein isolates if we operate at large commercial scale, which would be thousands or potentially tens of thousands of tons per year.”
“Electricity is about half of our production costs, mostly for the electrolysis process. So yes, the viability of our process depends on which country you are in and what type of electricity market it has, so you need an efficient electricity market where you operate,” he also added on a question about rising electricity costs.
According to Vainikka: “The front end of the factory is similar to an oil refinery, the middle part is like a brewery, and the downstream part is like dairy… Our fermenter is like a big SodaStream. The main feedstocks are carbon dioxide gas, hydrogen gas, some oxygen and then some nitrogen in the growth media, water solution ammonia, and then some nutrients that plants typically take through roots.”
“We use electrolysis to get the hydrogen [using electricity to split water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen], which we bubble through our fermenter using pipes. Right now we source liquefied carbon dioxide, which you can get from different industrial sources,” he added for AgFunderNews.
The company also sources about 10-20% (of the C02 used in the production process) from a direct air capture device connected to its ventilation system at its headquarters.