Hierarchical Inorganic Assemblies for Artificial Photosynthesis

Wooyul Kim, Eran Edri, Heinz Frei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


ConspectusArtificial photosynthesis is an attractive approach for renewable fuel generation because it offers the prospect of a technology suitable for deployment on highly abundant, non-arable land. Recent leaps forward in the development of efficient and durable light absorbers and catalysts for oxygen evolution and the growing attention to catalysts for carbon dioxide activation brings into focus the tasks of hierarchically integrating the components into assemblies for closing of the photosynthetic cycle. A particular challenge is the efficient coupling of the multi-electron processes of CO2 reduction and H2O oxidation. Among the most important requirements for a complete integrated system are catalytic rates that match the solar flux, efficient charge transport between the various components, and scalability of the photosynthetic assembly on the unprecedented scale of terawatts in order to have impact on fuel consumption.To address these challenges, we have developed a heterogeneous inorganic materials approach with molecularly precise control of light absorption and charge transport pathways. Oxo-bridged heterobinuclear units with metal-to-metal charge-transfer transitions absorbing deep in the visible act as single photon, single charge transfer pumps for driving multi-electron catalysts. A photodeposition method has been introduced for the spatially directed assembly of nanoparticle catalysts for selective coupling to the donor or acceptor metal of the light absorber. For CO2 reduction, a Cu oxide cluster is coupled to the Zr center of a ZrOCo light absorber, while coupling of an Ir nanoparticle catalyst for water oxidation to the Co donor affords closing of the photosynthetic cycle of CO2 conversion by H2O to CO and O2. Optical, vibrational, and X-ray spectroscopy provide detailed structural knowledge of the polynuclear assemblies. Time resolved visible and rapid-scan FT-IR studies reveal charge transfer mechanisms and transient surface intermediates under photocatalytic conditions for guiding performance improvements.Separation of the water oxidation and carbon dioxide reduction half reactions by a membrane is essential for efficient photoreduction of CO2 by H2O to liquid fuel products. A concept of a macroscale artificial photosystem consisting of arrays of Co oxide-silica core-shell nanotubes is introduced in which each tube operates as a complete, independent photosynthetic unit with built-in membrane separation. The ultrathin amorphous silica shell with embedded molecular wires functions as a proton conducting, molecule impermeable membrane. Photoelectrochemical and transient optical measurements confirm tight control of charge transport through the membrane by the orbital energetics of the wire molecules. Hierarchical arrangement of the components is accomplished by a combination of photodeposition, controlled anchoring, and atomic layer deposition methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1634-1645
Number of pages12
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)


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