Leaves are kind of like nature’s power plants, converting incoming sunlight into energy for the plant to thrive on. Inspired by the real thing, scientists have previously created artificial leaves that function in much the same way as their natural counterparts to produce electricity and even liquid fuels.
Now a team at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) is using a similar system to produce chemicals, which could one day lead to solar-powered “mini-factories” that can produce drugs, pesticides and other chemicals almost anywhere.
To mimic the light-capturing molecules in leaves, the researchers turned to luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs), materials seen in solar-harvesting window technology and used to catch and amplify laser beams carrying data in Facebook’s drone-mounted internet project. These LSCs absorb incoming light, convert it to specific wavelengths and then guide the photons to the edges of the device.