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Institute Develops First Programmable Photocatalyst

Thursday, September 9, 2021

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At the beginning of the month, the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces announced that it had developed a sustainable and “smart photocatalyst.”

Photocatalysts are reported to be a special material that use the energy from sunlight or LED light to create a desired reaction. However, this often results in not just one, but a variety of products. According to the Institute, the smart material they’ve recently developed can distinguish between blue, red and green colors of light, and in response, is able to create a specific chemical reaction already programmed into it.

“Our smart photocatalyst functions as a traffic guide who opens one specific pathway in response to light of specific color,” said Yevheniia Markushyna, the first author of the paper.

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

At the beginning of the month, the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces announced that it had developed a sustainable and “smart photocatalyst.”

Thanks to the Institute’s new method, sulfonamides—organosulfur compounds that are used, among other things, as antibiotics to treat bacterial infections—can be synthesized in a targeted manner by utilizing a photocatalytically active carbon nitride material that produces with high selectivity sulfonamides.

However, with the aid of the sustainable smart photocatalyst, one product can be created selectively from three possible products from the same reagent by adjusting the color of the incident light. Markushyna further explained, saying, “The special feature is that we can control the selectivity of the chemical reaction by turning on the light bulb of the right color.”

Aleksandr Savateev, group leader and head of the photocatalysis study recently published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, added, “Today, we have sustainable smart photocatalysts and the knowledge to produce value-added organic compounds using solar light in the most efficient way possible. Potentially, our method could also make the production of sulfonamide antibiotics more sustainable.”

Photocatalyst Coating Research

Earlier this year, in February, researchers from the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science announced the development of a new coating strategy for semiconductors that provides corrosion protection, improves efficiency, and could even lower the cost of solar fuel production.

The research group was led by Shu Hu, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering.

According to Yale News, solar fuels are produced when semiconductors are illuminated so that specific materials can allow for the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen. The energy produced from the process is referred to as photocatalytic water splitting.

However, the university notes that the illumination process is prone to corrosion and can lead to the frequent replacement of materials only after a few hours of use. In the past, researchers have attempted to protect the semiconductors by interfering with the separation of charged particles within the semiconductor—a crucial part in the device’s function.

In applying a new method that both allows for separation and prevents corrosion, Hu’s group developed a protective titanium dioxide coating.

Zhao further notes that the 1.7% efficiency was a record high for solar-to-hydrogen conversion and believe that future optimization could lead to more increases.

Last year, the United States Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office awarded Arizona State University spin-out company, Swift Coat, $1 million to commercialize a dirt-eating solar glass coating that also aims to increase energy generation.

Swift Coat specializes in nanocoatings and was founded by ASU associate professor Zachary Holman and doctoral student Peter Firth. Partners on the award include a U.S.-based glass manufacturer and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Using two coatings—a preexisting antireflection coating and a photocatalytic titania (titanium dioxide)—Swift Coat is aiming to create a material that both repels dirt and breaks down organic compounds.

Over the 18-month program, Swift Coat planned to use titanium dioxide to develop the photocatalytic titania coating. When absorbing UV light, the material creates a chemical reaction that breaks down organic soilants.

Once developed, the coating will be applied using a technique that sprays dry nanoparticles through a gas deposition process called “aerosol impact-driven assembly.” In choosing this type of application, the coating avoids possessing a high refractive index and thus matches the industry standard for anti-reflection coating performance.

Additionally, the coatings applied make the module surface hydrophilic, making it easier for rain or dew to wash away the already loosened inorganics.

And, in 2019, a group of engineers at Graphene Flagship combined graphene and titanium dioxide nanoparticles to create a new photocatalyst that is reported to successfully remove pollutants from the air.

According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution can be linked to 3 million deaths a year. While major sources of air pollution are linked to inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities, not all air pollution originates from human activity, and can even be influenced by dust storms.

In an attempt to find new ways to remove more pollutants from the atmosphere, a research team at Graphene Flagship looked at titania in its photocatalytic coatings. (Titania is a common photocatalyst because when it’s exposed to sunlight, it degrades nitrogen oxides [NOx] and volatile organic compounds present at the surface, oxidizing them into inert or harmless products.) The work was coordinated by Italcementi, HeidelbergCement Group (Italy).

From the research, Graphene Flagship found that by performing a liquid-phase exfoliation of graphite in the presence of titania nanoparticles, a graphene-titania composite was created and when tested, degraded up to 70% more atmospheric nitrogen oxides than standard titania nanoparticles.

Reports also indicate that the composite can be applied as a coating to surfaces like streets, sidewalks or the walls of buildings, where its powered completely by sunlight. The photodegradation products, which are produced as a result, can be washed away by rain, wind or manually cleaned off.

In further testing, the team built photocatalytic panels and exposed them to pollutants. In one instance, the team used rhodamine B—which is similar to volatile organic pollutants when it comes to molecular structure—and found that when tested in water and activated by UV light, the graphene-titania composite degraded 40% more than a catalyst using only titania.

Work for the project was conducted by engineers from the Graphene Flagship, the University of Bologna, Politecnico di Milano, CNR, NEST, Italcementi HeidelbergCement Group, the Israel Institute of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of Cambridge.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating Materials - Commercial; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Good Technical Practice; Latin America; North America; Photocatalytic coatings; Research; Research and development; Z-Continents

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