Artificial Chemosynthesis can produce Food without Sunshine


For the more distant future, University of California – Riverside researchers have found a way to bypass the sunlight for photosynthesis and synthesize food with chemical processing—chemosynthesis.  This science-fictionish concept is still only a distant and far-future possibility, but it has tremendous possibilities. 

The technology uses a two-step process.  First, an electrocatalytic process converts carbon dioxide (CO2), electricity, and water (H2O) into acetate (vinegar attached to some anion).  Food-producing organisms (plants or fungi) then consume acetate to grow without the need for light. Even better this chemosynthesis process might be 18 times the conversion efficiency of the 1% in photosynthesis.

The researchers involved were able to pursue the potential food production because they developed a more efficient process for electrocatylyzing acetate from water and carbon dioxide.  When the non-light chemical bio-energy input can be done, a range of science fictionish ideas become plausible. 

Most importantly, a vertical farm might not need an astounding array of artificial grow lights.  It would only need enough light for human (and robotic!) workers to manage production.  That means considerably less of an electrical load and less of an excess heat load. 

Second, the driving energy to power the chemosynthesis could be any distant area with sufficiently cheap electricity to generate the biochemical feedstock.  The feedstock could then be shipped in without the transmission cost and inconvenience of electrical transmission lines.

Third, this is a technology of the exotic future.  It may be expensively noncompetitive with conventional broad-acre-farming and even vertical-farm agriculture at present, but it could be another techno revolution for a potential climate disaster and definitely competitive for food production in outer space.


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