Lead researcher Timothy Noel at Eindhoven University of Technology, developed the artificial leaf that could allow for medicines to be produced anywhere, where there is sunlight.
The work taps into the ability of plants to use sunlight to feed themselves through photosynthesis.
The leaf-inspired micro-factory mimics nature's efficiency at harvesting solar radiation by using new materials called luminescent solar concentrators with very thin channels through which liquid is pumped, exposing molecules to sunlight.
"If you look at the chemical industry, they use fossil fuels the most, which is a waste of the compounds, so it's better to harvest light energy and transfer that into chemical energy. Everyday our planet is receiving so much energy from the sun; the only problem is how we harvest it," Dr. Timothy Noel told Sputnik.
"Wherever you are on this planet there is always light so it means you can make chemicals. So it also allows you to make drugs on demand, if you are in a war zone you can make the pills that you want on demand and you don't have to go to a pharmacy… So maybe one day you can type into your iPad the pill you want and then it makes it for you," Dr. Noel added.
The device is made from silicone rubber and can operate even when there is diffuse light, which means it will work under cloudy skies.
Dr. Noel and his colleagues published their research in the science journal Angewandte Chemie and are now trying to improve energy efficiency further as well as increase output.
This invention by the Dutch scientists will aid the production of drugs in various situations, especially when it is difficult to access the required medicines needed. This development could benefit solders in war zones or can produce drugs for sick astronauts in space.
"What we now want to do is get the energy efficiency even higher and scale up this system. We would like to make different types of leaves with different types of materials if we want to make drug structures and more complicated ones, then we need to keep testing. If we make the reactors and team up with others, we can make a whole factory which is powered by solar energy, that is the dream," Dr. Noel told Sputnik.