Photosynthesis has evolved in plants to convert carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight into biomass and the food we consume. The process, however is highly inefficient with only about 1% energy found in sunlight used in the plant.
In a new development, scientists at the University of Delaware and UC Riverside have discovered a way to bypass the need for natural photosynthesis and create food without use of sunlight by artificial photosynthesis.
The technique published in Nature Food employs a two-step electrocatalytic process to convert CO2, water, and electricity into acetate, which is the form of main component of vinegar. Acetate is ingested by food producing creatures in the dark to grow. The hybrid organic-inorganic system when combined with solar panels to produce the electricity to power the electro catalysis could increase efficiency of conversion of sunlight into food, which could be up to 18 times more for some foods.
The new approach seeks to identify a new way to produce food that could surpass the limits usually imposed by biological photosynthesis, stated corresponding author of the study.
Meanwhile, to join all components of the system, the output of the electrolyzer was optimized to support the growth of food-producing organisms.
Function-wise, electrolyzer is an equipment that uses electricity to change raw materials such as CO2 into useful molecules and products. This resulted in increased amount of acetate produced and decreased amount of salt used with the highest quantity of acetate ever produced in an electrolyzer till date.
With the help of a state-of-the-art two step CO2 electrolysis setup created in the laboratory, the scientists were able to achieve a high selectivity toward acetate that cannot be reached out via traditional CO2 electrolysis routes.