A sustainable strategy for future production of some chemicals and pharmaceuticals was conceived and proved to be realistic in the Netherlands by researchers at the University of Amsterdam’s Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences. Professor Timothy Noël and co-workers in the Flow Chemistry group have developed a fully operational standalone solar-powered mini-reactor. „The mini-plant is based on the concept of photochemistry, using sunlight to directly ‘power’ the chemical synthesis. We employ a photocatalyst, a chemical species that drives the synthesis when illuminated,” professor Noël explained. „Our dream is to see our system used at a base on the Moon or on Mars, where self-sustaining systems are needed to provide energy, food and medicine. Our mini-plant could contribute to this in a fully autonomous, independent way,” he added.
In this project, the light is used to produce chemical conversion. The Noël research group had already demonstrated the solar flow reactor concept by synthesising a range of medicinally relevant molecules. The fully autonomous prototype also employs a responsive control system that can optimise the chemical conversion at various light intensities and it works even on days that are a mixture of sunny and cloudy. Based on this research, solar-powered chemical technology became not only possible but also a hope for the future. Until now the use of abundant solar light has been extremely limited. This will be without doubts changed. The direct use of solar photons to drive photochemical reaction is attractive as solar energy is a green, perennial energy source.