Biotech Updates

Artificial Photosynthesis Produces Food without Sunshine

July 6, 2022

Plants are growing in complete darkness in an acetate medium that replaces biological photosynthesis. Photo Source: Marcus Harland-Dunaway/UCR

Scientists from the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Delaware have found a way to bypass biological photosynthesis and create food without sunlight by using artificial photosynthesis.

The research team used a two-step electrocatalytic process to convert carbon dioxide, electricity, and water into acetate, the form of the main component of vinegar. Food-producing organisms then consumed acetate in the dark to grow. Using solar panels to generate the electricity to power the electrocatalysis, this hybrid organic-inorganic system could increase the conversion efficiency of sunlight into food by up to 18 times more efficient for some foods.

Their experiments showed that food-producing organisms can be grown in the dark on the acetate-rich electrolyzer output, including green algae, yeast, and fungal mycelium that produce mushrooms. Producing algae with this technology is approximately four-fold more energy efficient than growing it photosynthetically. Yeast production is about 18-fold more energy efficient than how it is typically cultivated using sugar extracted from corn.

Scientists are now looking at the potential of using this technology to grow crop plants. Cowpea, tomato, tobacco, rice, canola, and green pea were all able to use carbon from acetate when grown in the dark.

For more details, read the article in UC Riverside News.

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