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Researchers Grow Food Plants Without Sunlight

Sunday July 3, 2022. 04:34 PM , from Slashdot
Photosynthesis 'is very inefficient, with only about 1% of the energy found in sunlight ending up in the plant,' according to a new announcement from the University of California, Riverside. But now scientists at the school and the University of Delaware 'have found a way to bypass the need for biological photosynthesis altogether and create food independent of sunlight by using artificial photosynthesis.'
The research, published in Nature Food, uses 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 consume acetate in the dark to grow. Combined with solar panels to generate the electricity to power the electrocatalysis, this hybrid organic-inorganic system could increase the conversion efficiency of sunlight into food, up to 18 times more efficient 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 that a wide range of food-producing organisms can be grown in the dark directly on the acetate-rich electrolyzer output, including green algae, yeast, and fungal mycelium that produce mushrooms. Producing algae with this technology is approximately fourfold 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. 'We were able to grow food-producing organisms without any contributions from biological photosynthesis...' said Elizabeth Hann, 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 pea were all able to utilize carbon from acetate when cultivated in the dark....

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

'Using artificial photosynthesis approaches to produce food could be a paradigm shift for how we feed people,' said corresponding author Robert Jinkerson, a UC Riverside assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering. 'By increasing the efficiency of food production, less land is needed, lessening the impact agriculture has 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 inputs....'

'Imagine someday giant vessels growing tomato plants in the dark and on Mars — how much easier would that be for future Martians?' said co-author Martha Orozco-Cárdenas, director of the UC Riverside Plant Transformation Research Center.

Thans to Slashdot reader John.Banister for sharing the link!

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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