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Coffee pots, Lego and red cabbage water turn the spotlight on ‘green chemistry’

Monday, 01 July 2019

Using light and electricity to activate molecules instead of toxic chemical reagents will enable the sustainable manufacture of next generation medicines and other innovative products, according to scientists.

A team of chemists and engineers from the Universities of Nottingham, Bristoland Southampton, is gearing up to showcase their innovative work at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition(1-7 July) in London.

The ‘Green Light for Chemistry’ exhibit will focus on efforts by scientists to use photochemistry and electrochemistry in continuous reactors to make the manufacture of chemicals faster, cleaner and safer.

Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, Mike George, said: “We all rely on manufactured chemicals to maintain our quality of life, whether they are pharmaceuticals to cure our illnesses, the agrochemicals to help produce our food, or the fine chemicals and materials found in innumerable household products.

“But to keep up with demand, the search is on to find new sustainable methods for medicine and chemical production. Photochemistry and electrochemistry are inherently attractive because they use photons or electrons to replace the chemical reagents needed to activate molecules. Over the past few years, they have become ‘hot’ areas of research.

“However, their application to large scale chemical processes has been repeatedly hampered by a lack of suitable reactors. Our research consortium brings together chemists and engineers to devise new continuous flow reactors which can make large-scale processes accessible to all. Integrating these methodologies with smart recycling, the reactors minimise toxic chemical and solvent use.”

Thanks to a grant from the Engineering and Physical Research Council, 26 industrial companies have signed up to a £6M project, Photo-Electro, to tackle the problem.

Visitors to the Summer Science Exhbition will see ingenious hands-on demonstrations, using coffee pots, Lego and red cabbage water, illustrating the prinicples behind the Photo-Electro team’s work.

They will also be able to explore how the approach is already being applied to the process of manufacturing the antimalarial drug Artemisinin.

“Malaria is a truly dreadful disease that kills huge numbers of people right across the planet and Artemisinin is the basis of some of the more effective drugs against the disease.”
Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff, University of Nottingham and Fellow of the Royal Society

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Michael George, in the School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, on +44 (0) 115 9513512, mike.george@nottingham.ac.uk

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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the  2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer, proud of our Athena SWAN silver award, and a key industry partner- locally and globally.

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