Artificial photosynthesis for eco-friendly food production

Both protecting the environment and providing food to the world’s ever-increasing population are frequently antagonistic goals. Using a form of artificial photosynthesis, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have successfully developed a method for the synthetic production of nutritional protein. The demand for large quantities of nutritional protein, which can also be used in meat substitute products, is primarily driven by the animal feed industry.

At the TUM Campus Straubing for Biotechnology and Sustainability (TUMCS), a group led by Prof. Volker Sieber was successful in producing the amino acid L-alanine—an essential protein building block—from the polluting gas CO2.

Their aberrant biotechnological process includes methanol as a medium. Protein for animal feed has traditionally been produced in the southern hemisphere, necessitating extensive agricultural space and having a negative impact on biodiversity. The paper is distributed in the journal Chem Catalysis.

“When using solar or wind energy, this method requires far less space than growing plants to produce the same amount of L-alanine. Because of the more efficient use of space, a type of artificial photosynthesis can be employed to produce the same quantity of food on substantially less acres. This paves the possibility for agriculture to have a lesser environmental footprint.”

Prof. Sieber, of the TUM Professorship for Chemistry of Biogenic Resources.

The CO2, which is taken from the climate, is first transformed into methanol using green power and hydrogen. The new technique changes over this middle of the road into L-alanine in a multi-stage process utilizing manufactured proteins. The method is extremely productive and yields extremely well. L-alanine is one of the main parts of protein, which is vital for the nourishment of both people and creatures.

“Compared to growing plants, this method requires far less space to create the same amount of L-alanine when the energy used comes from solar or wind power sources,” Prof. Sieber of the TUM Professorship for Chemistry of Biogenic Resources explains. A type of artificial photosynthesis can be used to produce the same amount of food on significantly fewer acres thanks to the more effective use of space. This makes it possible for agriculture to have a smaller impact on the environment.

The scientists have only started with the production of L-alanine. In addition, “we want to further increase efficiency in the realization process and to produce other amino acids from CO2 using renewable energy,” says co-author Vivian Willers, who developed the procedure while she was a doctoral candidate at the TUM Campus Straubing. In addition, the project serves as an excellent illustration of how the hydrogen economy and bioeconomy can work together to increase sustainability.

More information: Vivian Pascal Willers et al, Cell-free enzymatic L-alanine synthesis from green methanol, Chem Catalysis (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.checat.2022.100502

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