Chemical engineers at Eindhoven University of Technology have develop a leaf-inspired prototype reactor that could capture the energy from sunlight and use it to produce drugs sustainably and cheaply anywhere.

Their prototype, described in a paper published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, draws inspiration from the ability of leaves to collect, store and use energy from sunlight to make its own food, a process commonly known as photosynthesis.

For their prototype reactor, the researchers combines a luminescent solar concentrators (LSC's) and microchannels. LSCs are relatively new material that have a special light-sensitive molecules. These molecules captures large amount of incoming light and converts it into specific color. The color is then conducted to the edges with the use of light conductivity.

Using thin channels incorporated in a silicon rubber LSC, the researchers were able to pump liquid into their artificial leaf. With the help of the microchannels and LSCs, the molecule from the liquid were able to make contact with the incoming sunlight. A contact with a high intensity could generate chemical reaction, just like the photosynthesis process.

"We now have a powerful tool at our disposal that enables the sustainable, sunlight-based production of valuable chemical products like drugs or crop protection agents," said lead researcher Timothy Noël, of Eindhoven University of Technology, in a press release. "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."

During one of their experiments, the researchers observed that the combination of LSC and microchannels performed 40 percetn higher than in a reactor without LSC. With the result of their experiments, the researchers hope that that their artificial leaf reactor could provide cheap and sustainable way to produce drugs or crop-protecting agents anytime and anywhere.