Drawing inspiration from photosynthesis performed in plants, a team of researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, have developed a leaf-shaped microphotoreactor that uses solar energy to produce pharmaceuticals. The artificial leaf features luminescent solar concentrators with very thin channels. When liquid is pumped through the channels, the molecules are exposed to sunlight.
The article was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition. This device based on fluorescent dye-doped polydimethylsiloxane collects sunlight, focuses the energy to a narrow wavelength region, and then transports that energy to embedded microchannels where the flowing reactants are converted into products.
It also can be fine-tuned by matching the emission of the microreactor with the absorption maximum of the photocatalyst flowing inside the reaction channels.
The leaf, made from silicone rubber, can operate in diffuse light. It can be easily cleaned with some solvent and subsequently reused. Theoretically, it could be used to make drug compounds with solar energy anywhere.
The next step is to further improve energy efficiency and increase output. The photomicroreactor could be tailored for many different photochemical or photocatalytic reactions. The idea is to build up entire molecules by using solar energy, say the researchers. The researchers hope to make the required device to do this within two years.