Artificial Photosynthesis Developed to Help Expand Food Production's Energy-Effectiveness

Artificial Photosynthesis Developed to Help Expand Food Production's Energy-Effectiveness ...

By using artificial photosynthesis, scientists have found a method to eliminate the need for biological photosynthesis altogether and to create food independent of sunlight. The study was published in the journal Nature Food.

Researchers combined a two-step electrocatalytic process to transform carbon dioxide, electricity, and water into acetate, the form of the main component of vinegar. Food-producing organisms then consume acetate in the dark to grow.

This hybrid organic-inorganic system, combined with solar panels to provide the electricity to perform electrocatalysis, might increase the effectiveness of sunlight into food, achieving a one-third more efficacy rate for certain foods.

According to Robert Jinkerson, a UC Riverside assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering, we sought to develop a new method of producing food that would break through the limitations inherent in biological photosynthesis.

The output of the electrolyser was improved to support the growth of food-producing organisms in order to convert raw materials such as carbon dioxide into useful molecules and products. Moreover, the amount of acetate produced was increased while the amount of salt used was reduced, producing the highest levels of acetate ever produced in an electrolyser to date.

According to Feng Jiao, a state-of-the-art two-step tandem CO2 electrolysis facility developed in our laboratory.

Experiments showed that a wide spectrum of food-producing organisms may be harvested in the dark directly on the acetate-rich electrolyser output, including green algae, yeast, and fungal mycelium that produce mushrooms. In addition, processing algae with this technology is approximately fourfold more energy-efficient than employing it photosynthesisally. Yeast production is about 18-fold more energy-efficient than how it is normally planned using sugar extracted from corn.

Typically, these organisms are based on sugars obtained from plants or inputs derived from petroleum, which is a result of biological photosynthesis. This technique is a more effective method of turning solar energy into food, compared to food production that relies on biological photosynthesis, according to Elizabeth Hann, a doctoral candidate in the Jinkerson lab and co-author of the study.

When cultivated in the dark, the potential for using this technology to grow crops was also investigated. Cowpea, tomato, tobacco, rice, canola, and green pea were all capable of utilizing carbon from acetate.

We found that a wide spectrum of crops might take the acetate we supplied and develop it into the major molecular foundations an organism needs to grow and thrive. According to Marcus Harland-Dunaway, a doctoral candidate in the Jinkerson Lab and co-lead author of the study, he might use the acetate as an additional energy source to increase crop yields.

Artificial photosynthesis opens the door to endless possibilities for developing food under the increasingly complex environments imposed by climate change, such as droughts, floods, and reduced land availability. If crops for humans and animals grew in less resource-intensive, controlled environments, crops might be grown in areas and potentially useful for future space exploration.

According to Jinkerson, increasing the use of artificial photosynthesis techniques to produce food might be a paradigm shift for how we feed people. Increasing the efficiency of food production, less land is required, reducing the impact agriculture has on the environment. And increased energy efficiency might help feed more crew members with less inputs.

This recipe for food production was presented to NASA''s Deep Space Food Challenge, where it was a Phase I winner. The Deep Space Food Challenge is a global competition where prize funds are awarded to individuals to develop innovative and game-changing food technologies that require minimal inputs and maximize safe, nutritious, and palatable food outputs for long-duration space trips.

Imagine someday huge vessels growing tomato plants in the dark and on Marshow would it be for future Martians? According to Martha Orozco-Cardenas, the director of the UC Riverside Plant Transformation Research Center.

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