Drug production costs might go down soon. It is now possible to produce drug cheaply anywhere -- even in the deep mountains or on Mars. The materials needed? An artificial leaf and sunlight. Chemical engineers at the Eindhoven University of Technology presented a leaf-shaped "mini-factory" which can make chemical products using sunlight.
Previously, making chemical products using sunlight is almost impossible. The energy gathered from sunlight is too little to generate chemical reactions. However, researchers were able to create a prototype reactor which captures sunlight similarly to what happens in plants during photosynthesis using the so-called luminescent solar concentrators (LSC's).
"Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars," lead researcher, by Dr. Timothy Noël said, according to Science Daily.
This new medicine breakthrough largely affects drug production costs. The researchers are now studying on how to improve the artificial leaf. Initial tests gathered favorable results. Even on cloudy days, the researchers were able to produce chemical products 40 percent higher than when not using LSC.
A study published in the Eindhoven University of Technology explained how the artificial leaf "mini-factory" works. The LSC captures the light similarly as leaves, which is then converted to a specific color that is conducted to the edges with light conductivity. The researchers combined the idea of the LSC with microchannels. These are very thin silicon rubber channels which bring the sunlight with molecules in the liquids and generate chemical reactions.
Noel added that they see more possible improvements in the research. "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," he said. This new discovery might pave the way to the decrease of drug production costs. In theory, using visible light via artificial leaf to produce medicine is more affordable, more sustainable and several times faster.