A solar-fueled scheme that may, in principle, be deployed anywhere for the sustainable production of pharmaceuticals or other chemicals has been demonstrated by researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands.

The amount of light captured is visible as bright red. The "veins" are the channels through which liquid is pumped. The amount of light captured is visible as bright red. The "veins" are the channels through which liquid is pumped. The process uses luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs) to capture and convert solar radiation in a manner similar to that of photosynthesis. Light-sensitive molecules in these materials harness a large amount of incident light which is converted into a specific color and conducted to the edges via light conductivity.

The researchers developed a leaf-inspired photoreactor based on silicon rubber LSC technology and incorporating microchannels to facilitate solar radiation contact and flowing reactants. Initial tests proved successful, with chemical production 40% higher than in a similar experiment without LSC material even under cloudy conditions.

While chemical reactions for producing drugs currently require chemicals and fossil fuels, almost any medication might be produced more sustainably and cheaper using this "artificial leaf" system, researchers say. They also theorize that, “Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars. All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory.”

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