Towards sustainability with sun-powered chemical reactions

As a part of HELSUS’ video series Sustainability Research in spotlight, Pedro Camargo, a HELSUS member and a professor of chemistry at the University of Helsinki, presents his research on what sort of a role chemistry can play in sustainability science.

Sustainability and chemistry 

Chemical industry’s function can be summed up by saying that it converts substances to other substances. Globally, chemistry is at the heart of multiple different industries, and as such, it plays an important role in economies worldwide. Chemical reactions usually require high temperatures and pressure to happen, which requires a lot of energy – most of which currently comes from fossil fuels – and therefore the industry also creates a lot of pollution.  

Human use of natural resources and fossil fuels has brought the planet to the brink of a cliff. On the state of sustainability, Camargo says that “[…] we have no choice – we must turn to a more sustainable, circular economy”. Sustainability transformation touches all sectors of economy, and the chemical industry is not excluded from it. The industry must reduce its environmental impacts by better utilising the waste it creates and by reducing the pollution it creates. 

Camargo’s research 

Camargo is working on sustainability transformation in the field of chemistry. One of the topics Camargo is working on is replacing fossil fuels in the chemical industry with sunlight. Camargo is working towards this goal by developing nanoparticles – particles that are a thousand times smaller than a strand of hair – which can act as “antennas” harvesting the energy from sunlight, which in turn can be used to accelerate and control chemical reactions. 

According to Camargo, nanoparticles could be used, for example, to convert CO2 into Value Added Chemicals, like liquid fuels, using only mild conditions and sunlight. Camargo believes that “[…] this transformation of CO2 from a waste, or a pollutant, to a commodity – a raw material – will lead the green transformation of the chemical industry.”  Camargo believes that chemistry can play a leading role in turning into a more sustainable and circular economy. 


Find out more in the video below!


Sustainability Research in Spot­light – new video series!

Sustainability Research in Spotlight video series aims at opening up what sustainability research can be about. Sustainability science is inter- and transdisciplinary field of research covering a variety of research topics, approaches, and theories. The new HELSUS video series gives a voice to sustainability scientists and different perspectives of sustainability. We start with eight videos in which HELSUS members introduce their valuable research. In the following weeks, we will introduce one researcher and research per week. We hope that these videos enlighten your autumn and give food for thought!