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Artificial Photosynthesis Can Produce Food in Complete Darkness


Published on: June 26, 2022,

Photosynthesis is compulsory for plants to grow and produce fruits and vegetables. It happens on the leaves of plant. For millions of years photosynthesis has evolved in plants to turn water, carbon dioxide and energy from sunlight into plant biomass. Researchers at University of California and University of Delaware have found a way to bypass the need for biological photosynthesis and create food independent of sunlight by using artificial photosynthesis.


The researchers used two step electrocatalytic process to convert to carbon dioxide, electricity, and water into acetate, the form of the main component of vinegar. It combines solar panels to generate electricity to power hybrid organic-inorganic system to do conversion efficiency of sunlight into foods with 18 times for some foods.  “With our approach we sought to identify a new way of producing food that could break through the limits normally imposed by biological photosynthesis,” said corresponding author Robert Jinkerson, a UC Riverside assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering.


Experiments showed a wide range of food producing organisms that can be grown in the dark directly on the acetate electrolyzer output including green algae, yeast and fungal mycelium that produces mushrooms. Producing algae with this technology is fourfold more energy efficient than growing it photosynthetically. Moreover yeast production is about 18- fold more energy efficient than how it is typically cultivated using sugar extracted from corn.


“ These organisms are cultivated on sugars derived from plants or inputs derived from plants or inputs derived from petroleum- which is a product of biological photosynthesis that took place millions of years ago. This technology is more efficient method of turning solar energy into food as compared to food production that relies on biological photosynthesis,” said Elizabeth Hann  a doctoral candidate in the Jinkerson Lab and co-lead author of the study.


With this method a new potential of  growing food is discovered. Cowpea, tomato, tobacco, rice, canola, and green pea were all able to utilize carbon from acetate when cultivated in the dark.



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