Scientists are developing artificial photosynthesis that could help make food production more energy-efficient on Earth, perhaps in the future on Mars.
Photosynthesis evolved in plants over millions of years, converting water, carbon dioxide and energy from sunlight into plant biomass, the basis of most of the food we eat.
However, researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Delaware found the process to be very inefficient, as the plant uses only 1% of the energy in sunlight.
That’s why scientists from both universities have found a way to bypass the need for biological photosynthesis altogether and use artificial photosynthesis to produce food independent of sunlight.
and used study — published June 23 in the journal Nature Food — uses a two-step electrolysis process to convert carbon dioxide, electricity and water into acetate, a salt or ester of acetic acid, the main component of vinegar. As a result, food-producing organisms consume the resulting acetate in the dark.
Combined with solar panels to generate electricity for electric propulsion, this hybrid (organic-mineral) system is capable of converting sunlight into food, 18 times more efficient than some plants.
A new way to produce food
According to For press release of the University of California at Riverside – published by the website report “Scientific alert(Scientific Alert) Commenting on the study, researcher Robert Jenkinson, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside, said, “Through our approach, we sought to identify a new method of food production. The limitations typically imposed by the representative process are biological photosynthesis.
To coordinate all the components of the system together, electrolyte release is optimized to support the growth of food-producing organisms.
Electrolyzers are devices that use electricity to convert raw materials such as carbon dioxide into useful molecules and products.
The amount of acetate produced was increased while the amount of salt used was reduced, resulting in the highest acetate levels ever produced in an electrolyser.
“Using a recent two-step carbon dioxide electrolysis system developed in our lab, we were able to achieve high selectivity toward acetate that is inaccessible by conventional CO2 electrolysis methods,” said University of Delaware researcher Feng Jiao.
Experiments have shown that a wide range of food-producing organisms can grow in the dark directly on the output of an acetate-rich electrolyzer, including green algae, yeast and fungi that produce ‘mushrooms’.
The researchers found that algae production with this technique was 4 times more energy efficient than cultivation using normal photosynthesis.
The researchers found that yeast production was about 18 times more energy efficient than conventionally grown methods using sugar extracted from corn.
A very efficient way
The technology is a more efficient way to convert solar energy into food than food production that relies on biological photosynthesis, said Elizabeth Hahn, PhD student in Jenkinson’s lab and co-lead author of the study.
“We have been able to grow food-producing organisms without any contribution from biological photosynthesis. These organisms are typically raised on plant-derived sugars or petroleum-derived inputs, the result of biological photosynthesis that occurred millions of years ago.”
Scientists are currently exploring the possibilities of growing crop plants using this technology. When this method was applied to some plants, cowpea, tomato, tobacco, rice, canola and pea plants were able to utilize carbon from acetate when grown in the dark.
By freeing agriculture from complete dependence on the sun, artificial photosynthesis opens the door to endless possibilities for growing food under the increasingly challenging conditions imposed by climate change.
Drought, floods, and land scarcity are less of a threat to global food security if crops are cultivated in low-resource and controlled environments.
Crops can also be grown in cities and other areas currently unsuitable for agriculture, and scientists hope to harness and adapt them to produce food and fuel, and this new food production system could be a paradigm shift in how we feed people. By increasing the efficiency of food production.
The process described here is so impressive that it won NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge to feed future astronauts, a demonstration of emerging technology that could one day help grow food in space.
And it’s not just about space; Artificial photosynthesis can fundamentally change food production and mitigate the damage of the climate crisis, but while such processes are not an excuse to avoid climate change, they can help make food production more resilient.
“Award-winning beer geek. Extreme coffeeaholic. Introvert. Avid travel specialist. Hipster-friendly communicator.”