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Reporting period: 2016-10-01 to 2018-09-30

The goal of PHOTOTRAIN is to educate and train 14 ESRs to ensure and advance photo-triggered chemical processes play its central role in sustainability.
The global need to move current human technologies into a sustainable future will have a great impact for the world of chemistry and related industries. In close concert with other disciplines, chemistry will be increasingly solicited to identify solutions that are practical, affordable and ultimately sustainable. To meet these objectives, not only research, but also chemical education will need profound reforms that have to be contextualized in the multidisciplinary and intersectoral picture of a sustainable development. By capitalising on the basic principles of supramolecular chemistry to program dynamic self-organized photoactive interfaces, it is intended to raise the creativity, knowledge, skills and capacity of the ESRs to conceive new ideas for reforming current industrial transformations into a new generation of “light-triggered” processes.

The challenge of developing and transferring light-fuelled processes from a proof-of-principle to an exploitable process is to embark upon a dynamic configuration in which photoactive species are kept separated, act independently and are finally recycled. In particular, through the adoption of a microfluidic system in which programmed different phases allow the formation of photoactive interfaces, it is planned to implement photo-catalytic technologies at the industrial level for triggering stereoselective organocatalytic transformations (i.e. pharmaceutical applications) and/or solar fuels production. By the organisation of targeted individual projects and interdisciplinary secondements, ESRs will be guided toward attractive early-stage career opportunities as researchers, process chemists, chemical engineers and research managers in collective forms at various academic and research institutes, small and large enterprises, and NGOs.
The Network has successfully met their first three milestones of the project: the completion and signing of the project’s consortium agreement, the ESR recruitment and the portfolio of chromophores and catalysts. Scientific progress achieved so far include activities focused on design, synthesis and basic characterization of chromophores and catalysts, femtosecond laser microfabrication of microfluidic channels in fused silica, both on the surface and buried beneath the surface by the FLICE technique, and lastly, characterization of basic microfluidic functionality of chips used.

The training of the 14 ESRs is processing well. Their training includes an interdisciplinary and intersectoral environment that is context-sensitive to industrial valorisation of fundamental research and its implementation into exploitable chemical processes, as well as interdisciplinary and cross-fertilizing in combining concepts from different disciplines.

PHOTOTRAIN has structured training at various levels: training by education in local and network-wide programmes (with schools that combine core science and transferable skills); training by research including secondments; development of individualized Personal Career Development Plans (PCPD) and mentoring program.
As for scientific work carried out to date, the most advanced is seen in the synthesis and characterization of the photoactive components in which, under the guidance coordination of UNICARD, several new chromophores have been synthesized, photo and electrochemically characterized and tested in some photoinduced processes. Moreover, interfaces fabrication is being carried out through the close collaboration of CNR-POLIMI and ELVESYS and the interaction with UNIBO has led to the fabrication of operating glass and plastic microchips which have been already employed in some liquid-liquid interfaces. The ESRs involved are now optimizing the wall functionalization with photoactive molecules and nanostructured. The engineering of the photocatalytic processes and the exploitation in microfluidic chip started from the screening and evaluation of synthetically valuable light-driven processes. Some reactions were carried out in solutions, others in heterogeneous phase and water splitting processes have been studied. The next step is to bring in microfluidic devices the optimized reactions and conditions selected in the previous experiments.

Each ESR is exposed to different (research) environments and actively participates in the scientific progress of the network. In addition, all training schools have at least one partner organization NGO that is actively involved, engaging with ESRs, thus creating an environment of knowledge sharing. ESRs have been encouraged to participate actively in the international scientific community. Other notable progress, the publishing of 7 papers in international journals, with more in the pipeline. Our project’s efforts so far have increased the project’s visibility while continue to raise the creativity, knowledge, skills and capacity of the ESRs to conceive new ideas for reforming current industrial transformations into a new generation of “light-triggered” processes.
The PHOTOTRAIN approach will provide insights into how to utilize fundamental concepts in supramolecular chemistry and photophysic/photochemistry to build functional photoactive interfaces that can be implemented to produce scalable and sustainable quantities of products, strengthening the connectivity between fundamental science and industrial needs.

PHOTOTRAIN will raise the knowledge, skills and capacity of ESRs needed to design, implement and develop light-fuelled chemical transformations from an academic laboratory to an industrially-exploitable process.
PHOTOTRAIN ESRs will hopefully lead the way and continue to work in interdisciplinary and intersectoral environments that are context-sensitive to industrial valorisation of fundamental research and implement them into exploitable chemical processes, cross-fertilizing concepts from different scientific disciplines to ultimately contribute to the develop novel sustainable chemical processes integrating light as the clean energy source.

PHOTOTRAIN aims to foster long term collaborations in research and training between academics, NGO’s and industry also beyond the scope of this programme, via follow-up projects, PhD training, participation to international networks, collaboration agreements and dissemination in low- and middle-income countries.

Scientifically speaking, the exploitation of these processes in microfluidic conditions will enable the development of new catalytic technologies based on versatile, robust, low-cost and scalable devices. Indeed, to our knowledge, structural doctoral training encompassing and integrating these fields does not exist at the European level, and this will help EU to become one of the world leader in this innovative sector.

PHOTOTRAIN will strengthen the European innovation capacity with the formation of creative researchers with entrepreneurial mindset able to effectively combine scientific excellence with market needs and then contribute to sustain European growth and competitiveness in today global urgent and central themes such as clean energy production, control of CO2 emission, climate changes and green chemistry.