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ENTREPRENEURING DYNAMIC SELF-ORGANIZED INTERFACES IN PHOTOCATALYSIS: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY TRAINING NETWORK CONVERTING LIGHT INTO PRODUCTS

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PHOTOTRAIN (ENTREPRENEURING DYNAMIC SELF-ORGANIZED INTERFACES IN PHOTOCATALYSIS: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY TRAINING NETWORK CONVERTING LIGHT INTO PRODUCTS)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-09-30

Launched officially in October 2016 and completed at the end of September 2020, the PHOTOTRAIN network aimed to implement photo-catalytic technologies for triggering stereoselective organocatalytic transformations, which has been proven to hold promising applications in pharmaceuticals and solar fuels production for sustainable energy. The network trained 14 ESRs from around the world. They were trained in an interdisciplinary and intersectoral environment that was context-sensitive to industrial valorisation of fundamental research and its implementation into exploitable chemical processes; interdisciplinary and cross-fertilizing, combining concepts from different disciplines: chemical engineering, photophysics, photochemistry, organic synthesis, supramolecular chemistry, device engineering, process design, organo and heterogenous catalysis integrating aspects such as transfer of technology, scale-up, valorisation of fundamental science, environmental aspects, energy and ultimately quality of life.

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, the team aimed to implement photo-catalytic technologies at the industrial level for triggering stereoselective organocatalytic transformations (i.e. pharmaceutical applications) and/or solar fuels production.

The main focus of the network was the conversion of solar energy starting from the fundamental bases (photophysics), including the design of photoactive molecules (organic chemistry) and the materials (colloidal chemistry), the study of the photoinduced processes (photochemistry and microscopy), performing and studying the reactions (physical chemistry), building a microfluidic photoreactor (physics and engineering), and planning an industrial-scalable chemical process (private sector). PHOTOTRAIN ESRs also had the opportunity to mobilize between network partners supported by research visits and secondments, allowing them tointegrate in the network with the aim to help them interact with their fellows and within different research, development and innovation environments.
The Network has successfully met all the milestones of the project and reached the research and training objectives. All the 14 ESRs fulfilled their Personal Career Development Plan (PCPD) and the mentoring program through a structured training at various levels: training by education in local and network-wide programmes (with schools that combine core science and transferable skills) and training by research including secondments.

The most advanced scientific progress achieved were:
- the synthesis and characterization of the photoactive components in which several new chromophores have been synthesized, photo and electrochemically characterized and tested in some photoinduced processes;
- design and fabrication of operating glass and plastic microchips which have been employed in some liquid-liquid and solid-liquid interfaces by the optimization of wall functionalization with photoactive molecules and nanostructured
semiconductors;
- exploitation of photocatalytic processes in microfluidic chip and evaluation of synthetically valuable light-driven processes;
- photosynthetic processes, water and CO2 reduction combined with organic oxidation.

Each ESR was exposed to different (research) environments and actively participates in the scientific progress of the network. In addition, all training schools had 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 and they took part in over in over 30 various conferences and high-profile meetings around the world during the project, either as participants, poster/oral presenters. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic, any activities that were scheduled for 2020 had to be cancelled.
Other notable progress were the publications of 30 papers in international journals. 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 provided insights into how to utilize fundamental concepts in supramolecular chemistry and photophysic/photochemistry to build functional photoactive interfaces for the exploitation of photocatalytic processes in microfluidic conditions fostering the development of new catalytic technologies based on versatile, robust, low-cost and scalable devices.

PHOTOTRAIN has had notable impact on researchers, as well as on institutions. With regards to the impact on researchers, the cross disciplinary nature of the research and training programmes has prepared ESRs for careers in a range of skills allowing them to work in 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 development of novel sustainable chemical processes integrating light as a clean energy source. This has greatly enhanced their employability as they are all either have pursued postdoctoral studies or are employed in their field of choice. Another impact involved the development of a solid scientific basis with broad applications, in which the ESRs were given opportunities to interact with peer-researchers across a range of applications and levels. The complementary skills programme offered throughout the project has prepared our fellows to enter into a new chapter of their professional and academic lives and has enabled them to adapt and thrive in a variety of environments. The active collaboration between the public and private sector, which was inherent in this project, promoted a coherent understanding of the commercial as well as the technical requirements and engender an entrepreneurial and commercial mind-set with a focus on innovation. In addition, the aspect of mobility has been important for each ESRs’ ability to adapt to new cultures and languages, which has further prepared them for international career development.

PHOTOTRAIN fostered 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.

PHOTOTRAIN contributed in strengthening 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.
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