Scientists Discover Way To Circumvent Need of Plants for Biological Photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis has been developed by scientists as a means of producing food without the necessity for organic photosynthesis.

The process turns to water, energy, and carbon dioxide into acetate through two electrocatalytic steps.

Then, in the dark, organisms that produce food use acetate.

The conversion of sunlight into food might be up to 18 times more effective with the hybrid organic-inorganic system.


(Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images for NZOC)

For millions of years, photosynthesis has developed within plants to convert water, carbon dioxide, and solar energy into plant biomass and the meals humans consume.

However, this mechanism is incredibly inefficient, as just 1% of the energy from sunlight reaches the plant.

By adopting artificial photosynthesis, researchers from the Universities of Delaware and Riverside have discovered a means to produce food without the requirement for biological photosynthesis.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Food, used a two-step electrocatalytic process to transform carbon dioxide, energy, and water into acetate, which is the chemical form of vinegar’s primary ingredient.

This hybrid organic-inorganic system might improve the conversion efficiency of sunlight into food when combined with solar panels to create the electricity to fuel the electrocatalysis.

According to the corresponding author Robert Jinkerson, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UC Riverside, they aim to find a novel method of food production that might surpass the restrictions often placed by biological photosynthesis.

The output of the electrolyzer was tuned to assist the growth of food-producing organisms to unite all the parts of the system.

Electrolyzers are machines that use electricity to transform unusable molecules and products, like carbon dioxide, into raw materials.

Experiments revealed that a variety of food-producing species, including green algae, yeast, and fungal mycelium that produces mushrooms, can be grown in the dark directly on the acetate-rich electrolyzer output.

With this method, producing algae is about four times more energy-efficient than growing it through photosynthesis.

When sugar from maize is used instead of traditional cultivation methods, yeast production is around 18 times more energy-efficient.

Artificial photosynthesis makes it possible to grow food in the more challenging conditions brought on by human climate change by releasing agriculture from its whole reliance on the light.

If crops for people and animals grew in less resource-intensive, regulated conditions, drought, floods, and decreased land availability would be less of a danger to global food security.

Also Read: Plants Go into Photosynthesis ‘Beast Mode’ After Gene Mutation: New Study

Artificial photosynthesis

By harnessing the energy from the sun to create high-value chemicals like ethylene, methanol, and ethanol from carbon dioxide, artificial photosynthesis is a technique that imitates natural photosynthesis.

The relevant study, which has been divided into the disciplines of solar cell research and carbon dioxide conversion research, has only been able to advance under laboratory circumstances due to technological and financial limitations.

Small-scale laboratory research indicated that there are still many challenges to be addressed before practical uses of artificial photosynthesis can be achieved.

According to a report, a research team led by Drs. Hyung Suk Oh and Woong Hee Lee of the Clean Energy Research Center at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology and Dr. Jae Soo Yoo of Kyung Hee University created branch-shaped, nanometer-sized tungsten-silver catalyst electrodes.

These electrodes can efficiently convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

These may also be utilized to create a large-scale artificial photosynthesis system that can function in actual sunlight settings by fusing a carbon dioxide conversion system with silicon solar cells.

Its created catalyst can be used in carbon monoxide production systems that function by transforming gaseous carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

These systems demonstrated a carbon monoxide yield increase of more than 60% over the conventional silver catalyst and remained stable even after 100 hours of testing.

Additionally, electron microscopy and real-time analysis were used to study the improved durability and efficiency of the former from the perspective of the catalyst material, and it was found that the catalyst’s three-dimensional structure and the crystal structure of the branch shape contributed to the high yield.

Related article: Tree Growth is Not Entirely Dependent on Photosynthesis: New Study

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