New dual-atom catalyst shows promise to yield clean energy by artificial photosynthesis

March 5, 2018, Boston College
New dual-atom catalyst shows promise to yield clean energy by artificial photosynthesis
A structural characterization of a new iridium dinuclear heterogeneous catalyst reveals bright pairs of atoms. The new catalyst is regarded as an advance in efforts to produce and store clean energy through artificial photosynthesis. Credit: PNAS

Looking for new solutions to more efficiently harvest and store solar energy, scientists from the U.S. and China have synthesized a new, dual-atom catalyst to serve as a platform for artificial photosynthesis, the team reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team developed an iridium catalyst with only two active metal centers. Most significantly, experiments revealed the catalyst to be a well-defined structure, capable of serving as a productive platform for future research on solar fuel synthesis.

"Our research concerns the technology for direct solar energy storage," said Boston College Associate Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang, a lead author of the report. "It addresses the critical challenge that solar energy is intermittent. It does so by directly harvesting and storing the energy in chemical bonds, similar to how photosynthesis is performed but with higher efficiencies and lower cost."

Researchers have spent considerable time on single-atom catalysts (SACs) and rarely explored an "atomically dispersed catalyst" featuring two atoms. In a paper titled "Stable iridium dinuclear heterogeneous catalysts supported on metal-oxide substrate for solar water oxidation," the team reports synthesizing an iridium dinuclear heterogeneous catalyst in a facile photochemical way. The catalyst shows outstanding stability and high activity toward water oxidation, an essential process in natural and .

Researchers focused on this aspect of catalysis encounter particular challenges in the development of heterogeneous catalysts, which are widely used in large-scale industrial chemical transformations. Most active heterogeneous catalysts are often poorly defined in their atomic structures, which makes it difficult to evaluate the detailed mechanisms at the molecular level.

The team was able to take advantage of new techniques in the evaluation of single-atom catalysts and develop a material platform to study important and complex reactions that would require more than one active site.

Wang said the team of researchers set out to determine "what the smallest active and most durable heterogeneous catalyst unit for water oxidation could be. Previously, researchers have asked this question and found the answer only in homogeneous catalysts, whose durability was poor. For the first time, we have a glimpse of the potential of in clean energy production and storage."

The team also performed X-ray experiments at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Advanced Light Source that helped to determine the structure of the iridium catalyst. They used two techniques: X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) and X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure (XANES) in their measurements. These experiments provide critical evidence to better understand the .

Wang said the team was surprised by the simplicity and durability of the catalyst, combined with the high activity toward the desired reaction of .

Wang said the next steps in the research include further optimization of the catalyst for practical use and an examination of areas where the can be applied to new chemical transformations.

Explore further: A catalytic balancing act for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen

More information: Yanyan Zhao el al., "Stable iridium dinuclear heterogeneous catalysts supported on metal-oxide substrate for solar water oxidation," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1722137115

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Commercially relevant bismuth-based thin film processing

September 20, 2018

Developing materials suitable for use in optoelectronic devices is currently a very active area of research. The search for materials for use in photoelectric conversion elements has to be carried out in parallel with developing ...

A game of pool in the live cell

September 20, 2018

Cells need to react to environmental changes and maintain a balanced system of signaling cascades within the cell. Proteins outside of the cell, on the cellular surface, inside the cellular membrane, and within the cell orchestrate ...

Nucleation a boon to sustainable nanomanufacturing

September 19, 2018

Calcium carbonate is found nearly everywhere, in sidewalk cement, wall paint, antacid tablets and deep underground. Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have used a unique set of state-of-the-art imaging techniques ...

Greater than the sum of its parts

September 18, 2018

When it comes to designing and optimizing mechanical systems, scientists understand the physical laws surrounding them well enough to create computer models that can predict their properties and behavior. However, scientists ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tblakely1357
1 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2018
About ten years ago I read about a technology that would convert animal fat and other contaminated fat to clean burning oil and that it could easily scale to factory level production. Haven't head about it since. I suspect this 'green' technology will also pass after it's sucked up as much investor and tax dollars as it can. It's almost as if 99.9% of 'green' energy projects are scams.
eagleon
not rated yet Mar 06, 2018
About ten years ago I read about a technology that would convert animal fat and other contaminated fat to clean burning oil and that it could easily scale to factory level production. Haven't head about it since. I suspect this 'green' technology will also pass after it's sucked up as much investor and tax dollars as it can. It's almost as if 99.9% of 'green' energy projects are scams.

Yeah, it worked. They were selling the mix they got out of it at 10% below market while still making a profit. People of Missouri repeatedly shut it down over smell complaints, some of them fraudulent. Since we feed turkey guts to cows, they couldn't get enough of the feedstock they had planned to use for their pilot, bumping the price of their oil $20 higher. Then fracking flooded the market with everything they were making and ground their business into dust.

Do a bit of research before throwing allegations like this around.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.