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CNT-based photocatalysts enable solar water splitting

By Tetsuo Satoh |

Splitting water with sunlight is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to make hydrogen, but the conversion efficiency is presently very low, because current photocatalysts only work using ultraviolet radiation — a small fraction (3–5%) of sunlight. Now, a promising photocatalyst that operates over a much broader wavelength range has been developed by the research group of Yutaka Takaguchi at Okayama University (Japan; www.okayama-u.ac.jp), in collaboration with Yamaguchi University and Osaka Shinyaku Co., Ltd. (Yamaguchi, Japan).

The photocatalyst consists of dye-encapsulated single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs). The CNTs absorb the longer wavelength light (600–1,300 nm), which enhances the efficiency of the photocatalyst activity. A ferrocene-type organic pigment is encapsulated inside the SWCNTs and supports the efficient absorption of longer wavelength light. The researchers fabricated a coaxial, three-component heterojunction (dye, SWCNT and C60). Despite the larger diameter (≈1.4 nm) of the SWCNTs relative to that set by Flavel’s rule (0.95 nm), the photoinduced electron transfer from dye-encapsulated SWCNTs to C60 proceeded smoothly, resulting in the photosensitized evolution of H2 from H2O, using a ferrocenyl-based photosensitizer. At irradiation of 650 nm (red), this photocatalyst was found to be 120 times more efficient compared to other systems. An 8–9% conversion efficiency was observed at 500–550 nm, compared to the 1–5% efficiency of alternative photocatalysts.

Osaka Shinyaku plans to sell the two new pigments, which can be applied from solution as a coating of sheets, for producing H2. The catalyst system could be commercialized within three years.

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