Designer nanoparticles that harvest energy from sunlight help to create a more sustainable future

Chemistry is directly related to designing products with optimal resource efficiency, says professor Pedro Camargo.

What are your research topics?

My research interest comprises the development of designer nanoparticles that are capable of harvesting energy directly from sunlight and the use of that energy to accelerate and control the selectivity of molecular transformations.

We target multicomponent nanoparticles that marry optical and catalytic properties. While their optical features enable the harvesting of energy from sunlight, their catalytic properties can drive molecular transformations with less energy consumption, increased efficiencies and improved utilisation of raw materials, while avoiding the formation of undesired side products.

These attributes can contribute to the transition from fossil to renewable feedstocks for a wealth of transformations that are relevant to the chemical industry. These are crucial requisites towards a sustainable future.

Where and how does your topic of your research have an impact?

Today's society needs to prepare itself for a healthier future with food and medicines for all. We need plenty of energy and resources to fuel our growing development in a sustainable manner. Chemistry is directly related to jow we design products and processes with optimal resource efficiency and how we use the byproducts as secondary raw materials for other processes rather than creating waste.

Our research moves us closer to this vision. It brings the dream closer to reality of replacing contemporary industrial processes based on terrestrial fuels via the conversion of radiant energy into chemical energy. Because catalysis is involved in the production of around 90% of all chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, this can change the world as we know it, paving the way to massive and global economic, environmental and geopolitical impacts.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

One fascinating area is to employ sunlight not only to accelerate but also to control the selectivity of molecular transformations. Through this, we can discover new types of reactions and catalytic behaviour that can be enabled under light illumination which would not be possible through traditional catalytic processes driven by high temperatures or pressure.

Other emerging topics include the possibility of developing nanoparticles with the target optical feature, which is that the catalytic metal is present as isolated single atoms at the surface of the nanoparticle. The presence of single atoms of the catalytic metal represents the ultimate limit in terms of improved catalytic performances, maximum metal utilisation, and open up possibilities for new reaction pathways and mechanisms.

Pedro Camargo is the professor of inorganic material chemistry at the Faculty of Science.

Watch Pedro Camargo's inaugural lecture as a new professor 11.9.2020 on YouTube.

Read about the other newly appointed professors here.