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

Dorian Leger*, Silvio Matassa, Elad Noor, Alon Shepon, Ron Milo, Arren Bar-Even

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Population growth and changes in dietary patterns place an evergrowing 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. Ourmodel 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2015025118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - 29 Jun 2021


  • Electrochemistry
  • Food security
  • Microbial protein
  • Photovoltaics
  • Single-cell protein


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