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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Fraser

EIC funds Solar Foods-led consortium to develop milk proteins using CO2 and electricity

A research consortium led by Solar Foods has been selected by the European Innovation Council (EIC) to develop a novel biological tool to produce sustainable milk protein from CO2 and electricity.

The €5.5 million EIC project, named HYDROCOW, aims to engineer a microbe that converts carbon dioxide and hydrogen, produced from water using electricity, into beta-lactoglobulin, a major constituent of milk found in cows and sheep.

EIC is part of ‘Horizon Europe’, an EU research and innovation funding programme focused on identifying, developing and scaling up breakthrough technologies. The HYDROCOW project funding comes from the EIC Pathfinder instrument which “targets the exploration of exceptionally bold ideas for radically new technologies and early-stage research”.

The HYDROCOW project plans to build a carbon neutral system that works independently from agriculture and photosynthesis. Instead of starting from heterotrophic microbes (group of microorganisms – yeast, moulds and bacteria – that use organic carbon as food) that use feedstocks from agriculture, Solar Foods is modifying a hydrogen-oxidising microbe to secrete milk proteins.

Illustration of a milk protein being finalised and secreted through a cell membrane.
Illustration of a milk protein being finalised and secreted through a cell membrane.

Solar Foods is already known for its proprietary microbe that feeds on CO2 and hydrogen to grow its novel high-protein ingredient Solein. Whilst firmly building its foundation on Solein, the Finnish food-tech company has been actively researching new food microbes for years and has lately developed engineering methods to modify those microbes.

If HYDROCOW is successful, Solar Foods expects to gain a microbe that produces milk protein and a platform that in the future could be modified to produce other proteins as well. The company says that “there is a vast pool of ideas to extract from, ranging from edible proteins to various functional and even pharmaceutical proteins, like antibodies”.


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