Discovery Allows Plants to Grow in the Dark

Medscape Staff

July 05, 2022

Artificial photosynthesis is being developed that would provide a carbon and energy source and allow plants to grow without the benefit of direct sunlight, according to researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of California.

What to know:

  • Food production has been constrained because most crop plants grow with only about a 1% energy conversion efficiency, which means that massive tracts of land are required to grow crops at a level needed to provide food for humanity.

  • Artificial photosynthesis seeks to overcome the limitations of biological photosynthesis, including increasing both efficiency of solar energy capture and reduction of carbon dioxide, and could provide an alternative route for food production.

  • Using a two-step carbon dioxide electrolyzer system, researchers were able to produce a concentrated form of the chemical compound acetate, which can be used to cultivate the growth of food-producing plants in the dark.

  • When coupled with an external solar cell to power the electrolyzer, the approach was about four times more energy efficient than natural photosynthesis is at converting carbon dioxide to plant biomass.

  • By liberating agriculture from complete dependence on the sun, artificial photosynthesis opens the door to countless possibilities for growing food under increasingly difficult conditions and even in areas that are currently unsuitable for agriculture, possibly including food for future space explorers.

This is a summary of the article "A hybrid inorganic-biological articifial photosynthesis system for energy-efficient food production" published by Nature on June 23, 2022. The full article can be found on nature.com.

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