Abstract Artificial photosynthesis systems are proposed as an efficient alternative route to capture CO 2 to produce additional food for growing global demand. Here a two-step CO 2 electrolyser system was developed to produce a highly concentrated acetate stream with a 57% carbon selectivity (CO 2 to acetate), allowing its direct use for the heterotrophic cultivation of yeast, mushroom-producing fungus and a photosynthetic green alga, in the dark without inputs from biological photosynthesis. An evaluation of nine crop plants found that carbon from exogenously supplied acetate incorporates into biomass through major metabolic pathways. Coupling this approach to existing photovoltaic systems could increase solar-to-food energy conversion efficiency by about fourfold over biological photosynthesis, reducing the solar footprint required. This technology allows for a reimagination of how food can be produced in controlled environments.