Transforming CO2 into Sustainable Alternative Proteins: Solmeyea's Solution

Published on 2024-05-31

Startup Story

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Solmeyea, a pioneering Greek biotech startup, is transforming CO2 into sustainable, non-GMO, single-cell proteins suitable for human consumption



My name is Vasilis Stenos, and I'm the co-founder and CEO of SOLMEYEA, a Greek biotech startup revolutionizing the production of alternative natural proteins from CO2. SOLMEYEA has already gained global recognition as one of the most impactful, disruptive, and promising companies in carbon utilization, specializing in effectively decarbonizing economies, starting with the food sector. We are the only ones producing globally non-GMO, single-cell proteins from CO2 at scale, which are suitable for human consumption in Europe and the US, featuring simultaneous (SCOPE:1) CO2 emissions utilization. This innovative approach results in our produced proteins having the lowest Environmental Impact in terms of Carbon, Water, and Land – addressing both Climate Change and Food scarcity & quality.

This journey began nearly a decade ago, during my time at Columbia University in New York City. My graduate research thesis focused on creating value from CO2, a typically harmful element in our atmosphere due to population growth, livestock farming, and industrialization. From this concept, Solmeyea was born, aiming to transform CO2 into something beneficial. 
Solmeyea's technology is both innovative and highly productive. At its core, our process involves three main verticals. First, we address climate technology by converting CO2 emissions from heavy industries into a carbon-negative glucose substitute. This substitute mitigates the volatility and environmental impact associated with traditional glucose. In the second stage, we use FDA and EFSA-approved microalgae strains to convert this glucose substitute into functional biomass.

This process leverages our proprietary microalgae strains to produce biomass that ranges in color from white to beige to yellow, making it more appealing and versatile for various applications, including food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. Our proprietary microalgae strains are not the typical green, smelly biomass you might expect. Instead, they yield a neutral-colored product that can be seamlessly integrated into numerous plant-based foods. From burgers and steaks to dairy substitutes like milk, yogurt, and cheese, our biomass provides a sustainable and functional alternative protein source.

Solmeyea operates as a B2B company, providing ingredients for the food and cosmetics industries. Our primary aim is to replace soy as a protein source, offering a micro-protein biomass rich in antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and other beneficial lipids. This biomass can be used by FMCG companies to develop highly functional, beneficial, safe, and transparent end products suitable for a wide range of consumers. By transforming CO2 emissions into valuable resources, we want o to push the boundaries of what is possible in alternative protein production.

Environmental Benefits

From an environmental perspective, Solmeyea's approach offers significant benefits. Given my background as an Environmental Engineer, I emphasize the importance of life cycle assessment in our production process. As economies become more westernized, the need for sustainable solutions has reached a critical point. We must find ways to meet our everyday needs without further harming the environment. Solmeyea's innovation plays a crucial role in this by converting CO2 emissions into valuable products for the food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries. Instead of merely sequestering CO2, our technology utilizes it, reducing the need for carbon-intensive processes. For instance, traditional protein production often relies on glucose, derived from deforestation and sugarcane cultivation, which has a substantial carbon footprint. In contrast, Solmeyea's process uses CO2 emissions from industries like oil refining and cement production, turning these emissions into functional biomass without disrupting existing agricultural practices.

Our microalgae-based proteins not only provide a sustainable alternative but also improve land use by utilizing non-arable lands. This method is significantly more efficient, absorbing and converting CO2 at a rate 29 to 30 times higher than conventional forests, making it a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. By adopting Solmeyea's products, industries can maintain their production levels while drastically reducing their environmental impact, contributing to a more sustainable future.

Nutritional Superiority and Industry Impact of Solmeyea's Carbon-Negative Proteins

Solmeyea's product range, from functional food ingredients to carbon-negative proteins, is diverse and impressive. When it comes to nutritional value, our products stand out significantly compared to conventional counterparts. Our microalgae-derived biomass is colorless, tasteless, and highly functional, which sets us apart from other microalgae outputs in the market. This functionality is not just a marketing term; it represents specific characteristics that enhance the nutritional profile and usability of our biomass, currently under patent development.

Compared to other plant-based biomasses, our microalgae biomass naturally contains higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, and quality lipids. Additionally, our proprietary harvesting process further enhances these benefits, ensuring that consumers gain maximum nutritional value. Unlike other protein sources, our biomass is produced by absorbing and utilizing CO2, making it a carbon-negative solution. This process not only provides superior nutritional benefits but also helps mitigate environmental impact by reducing excess CO2 in the atmosphere.

While we are still scaling our production capabilities, we have collaborated with food manufacturers to develop initial prototypes and proof-of-concept products. These early collaborations have yielded positive feedback, helping us refine our processes and enhance the bioavailability and bioactivity of our biomass. Though we have yet to launch products on a massive scale, our unique approach and commitment to sustainability position us distinctively in the industry.

Overcoming Challenges and Pioneering Future Innovations

Running a deep-tech life science company like Solmeyea is akin to playing a video game where there is no game over; the only option is to keep advancing and overcoming obstacles. One of the most significant hurdles we've faced is managing cash flow. For the past four years, Solmeyea has relied on personal funds, specific grants, and awards to operate. This approach, while stressful and complicated, was a strategic decision. Given the complexity and innovative nature of our work, it was initially challenging to communicate our business model and vision to potential investors. We chose to grow independently, avoiding compromises and undervaluation of our efforts. This path allowed us to push our limits and develop a mature and understandable level of innovation that we believe will attract investors who truly appreciate our mission.

Looking ahead, Solmeyea is poised for exciting expansions and advancements. We are focused on leveraging our patent, which allows us to convert CO2 into various microalgae biomasses. This technology opens tremendous opportunities, from feeding the world to developing biofuels, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and even clothing. While our current emphasis is on food production for both Earth and space missions, we plan to expand into other sectors, including biofuels and nutraceuticals. Our vision encompasses not only creating sustainable food solutions but also contributing to other critical industries with our innovative technology. We aim to develop biofuels for conventional and unconventional transportation methods, alongside pharmaceuticals and cosmetics that enhance health and longevity.

About the author

Vasilis Stenos