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Artificial photosynthesis developed to help make food production more energy-efficient

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Researchers have found a way to completely bypass the need for organic photosynthesis and make food independent of sunlight using artificial photosynthesis. The study was published in the journal, nature food.

The researchers used a two-step electrocatalytic process to convert the carbon dioxide, electricity and water as the main components of vinegar into acetate. Food-producing organisms then consume the acetate in the dark to grow.

Combined with solar panels to generate electricity to power electrocatalysis, this hybrid organic-inorganic system can increase the conversion efficiency of sunlight to 18 times more efficient for certain foods.

“With our approach, we sought to identify a new way of producing food that could break the limits normally imposed by biological photosynthesis,” said corresponding author Robert Jinkerson, director of chemical and environmental engineering. UC Riverside Assistant Professor.

In order to integrate all the components of the system together, the production of the electrolyzer was 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 decreased, resulting in the highest level of acetate ever produced in the electrolyzer.

“Using a state-of-the-art two-step tandem CO2 electrolysis setup developed in our laboratory, we were able to achieve a high selectivity towards acetate that cannot be accessed through conventional CO2 electrolysis routes,” said corresponding author Fang Xiao he said. University of Delaware.

Experiments have shown that a wide range of food-producing organisms can be grown directly on the acetate-rich electrolyzer output, including the fungal mycelium producing green algae, yeast and mushrooms. Producing algae with this technology is about four times more energy-efficient than growing it photosynthetically. Yeast production is typically about 18 times more energy-efficient than its cultivation using sugar extracted from corn.

“We were able to grow food-producing organisms without any contribution from biological photosynthesis. Typically, these organisms are cultivated on input from plant sugars or petroleum—which occurred millions of years ago in organic light. This technology is a more efficient way of converting solar energy into food than food production that relies on biological photosynthesis,” said Elizabeth Hahn, a doctoral candidate in the Jinkerson Lab and co-lead author of the study.

The potential for employing this technology to grow crop plants was also investigated. Cowpea, tomato, tobacco, rice, canola, and green peas were all able to utilize the carbon from the acetate when cultivated in the dark.

“We found that a wide range of crops can take the acetate we’ve been given and make it into the key molecular building blocks that an organism needs to grow and thrive. With some of the breeding and engineering we’re currently working on By doing this, we may be able to grow crops with acetate as an additional energy source to boost crop yields,” said Marcus Harland-Dunaway, doctoral candidate in the Jinkerson lab and co-lead author of the study. Told.

By freeing agriculture from complete dependence on the sun, artificial photosynthesis opens up countless possibilities for growing food in the difficult conditions imposed by anthropogenic climate change. Droughts, floods, and low land availability would be less of a threat to global food security if crops for humans and animals were grown in less resource-intensive, controlled environments. Crops can also be grown in cities and other areas currently unsuitable for agriculture, and even provide food for future space explorers.

“The use of artificial photosynthesis approaches to produce food could be a paradigm shift in how we feed people. By increasing the efficiency of food production, less land is required, reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment.” And for agriculture in non-traditional environments, like outer space, the increased energy efficiency could help feed more crew members with less input,” Jinkerson said.

This approach to food production was submitted to NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge where it was a Phase I winner. The Deep Space Food Challenge is an international competition in which prizes are awarded to teams for creating new and game-changing food technologies that require minimal input and produce safe, nutritious and delicious food for long-duration space missions. Production is maximized.

“Imagine someday giant ships growing tomato plants in the dark and on Mars – how easy would it be for future Martians?” said co-author Martha Orozco-Cardenas, director of the UC Riverside Plant Transformation Research Center.


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