event 30 Jun 2021

Research article // Photovoltaic-driven microbial protein production can use land and sunlight more efficiently than conventional crops

By Dorian Leger, Silvio Matassa, Elad Noor, Alon Shepon, Ron Milo, and Arren Bar-Even. The cultivation of microbial biomass, which is rich in proteins as well as other nutrients, can play a vital role in achieving food security while mitigating the negative environmental footprint of agriculture. In this article, the authors analyze the efficiency associated with using solar energy for converting atmospheric CO2 derived from direct air capture into microbial biomass that can feed humans and animals. They show that the production of microbial foods outperforms the agricultural cultivation of staple crops in terms of caloric and protein yields per land area at all relevant solar irradiance levels. These results suggest that microbial foods could substantially contribute to feeding a growing population and can assist in allocating future limited land resources.

category Research Papers, Publications and Books tag Water plan tag Food and Agriculture tag Solar energy
Photovoltaic driven microbial protein production

© The authors of the study.

Abstract

Population growth and changes in dietary patterns place an ever-growing pressure on the environment. Feeding the world within sustainable boundaries therefore requires revolutionizing the way we harness natural resources. Microbial biomass can be cultivated to yield protein-rich feed and food supplements, collectively termed single-cell protein (SCP). Yet, we still lack a quantitative comparison between traditional agriculture and photovoltaic-driven SCP systems in terms of land use and energetic efficiency. Here, we analyze the energetic efficiency of harnessing solar energy to produce SCP from air and water. Our model includes photovoltaic electricity generation, direct air capture of carbon dioxide, electrosynthesis of an electron donor and/or carbon source for microbial growth (hydrogen, formate, or methanol), microbial cultivation, and the processing of biomass and proteins. We show that, per unit of land, SCP production can reach an over 10-fold higher protein yield and at least twice the caloric yield compared with any staple crop. Altogether, this quantitative analysis offers an assessment of the future potential of photovoltaic-driven microbial foods to supplement conventional agricultural production and support resource-efficient protein supply on a global scale.

Keywords

food security; microbial protein; single-cell protein; electrochemistry; photovoltaics

Citation

Leger, D., Matassa, S., Noor, E., Shepon, A., Milo, R., & Bar-Even, A. (2021). Photovoltaic-driven microbial protein production can use land and sunlight more efficiently than conventional crops. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(26), e2015025118. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2015025118

Published

April 2021

By

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

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Photovoltaic-driven microbial protein production can use land and sunlight more efficiently than conventional crops

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