‘Artificial photosynthesis’ system design overcomes problem of fast proton flow

By Scott Jenkins |

Artificial photosynthesis systems seek to harvest sunlight and carbon dioxide to make fuels. Among the many challenges for making solar fuels has been achieving a fast flow of protons from where they are generated to where they combine with CO2 and electrons to make fuel. Now, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, Calif.; www.lbl.gov) led by Heinz Frei have demonstrated the rapid transfer of electrons in a design for “solar fuel tiles” that could allow the efficient generation of fuels from sunlight. A recent paper from Frei’s group in Advanced Functional Materials describes how the solar fuel tiles — which contain billions of hollow, nanoscale tubes — are able to facilitate proton transfer. The hollow tubes consist of three layers: an inner layer of cobalt oxide, where energy from sunlight is harnessed to split water molecules into protons and oxygen; and an outer layer of titanium dioxide, which supports a catalyst to promote the reaction of CO2 into fuel. Between them, a thin layer of amorphous silica allows linkages between the two nanolayers, which provides “fast proton hopping pathways across the solid-to-solid interfaces,” Frei says. While allowing fast proton transfer, the silica layer…
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