By Essi Lehto | Photos by Attila Cser/Reuters

HELSINKI (Reuters) – A Finnish tech startup hopes to produce protein out of thin air and not much more, creating a plant-based product they can put into healthy drinks and yogurts or even turn into a meatless schnitzel, the company said.

Solar Foods has received nearly 25 million euros ($30 million) in government and private funding to commercialize the product called Solein, a yellow flour-type ingredient containing some 65 percent protein manufactured in a miniature bioreactor inside a laboratory. The flour is ground from a liquid microorganism that is made out of carbon dioxide from air, electricity, water, microbes and nutrients.

However, the company faces challenges, said Reetta Kivela, a professor of practice for food innovations at the University of Helsinki.

To make Solein a success, Kivela said, the company needed to make production run on renewable energy, find a sustainable way to produce nitrogen and make the flour more appealing than some other vegetable proteins that often have a grainy texture and can taste bitter.

Solein is a yellow flour-type ingredient containing some 65 percent protein
Solar Foods specialist Anna Hakamies prepares schnitzel made of water, air and electricity in Helsinki, Finland

Solar Foods chief executive Pasi Vainikka said that even though Solein used ammonia produced with fossil energy, it already produced significantly less emissions than meat production. The company is also planning to shift to green ammonia or even produce it at its own factory.

In December, the company added 4.3 million euros from the Finnish government to funding earlier raised from private investment companies and Finnish baker and candy maker Fazer to commercialize Solein.

Preparing to scale up manufacturing with a small demo factory, Solar Foods aims to introduce the product to the market in early 2023 and is applying for novel food approval globally, Vainikka told Reuters.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Attila Cser; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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