Cheaper, less toxic and recyclable light absorbers for hydrogen production

Cheaper, less toxic and recyclable light absorbers for hydrogen production
Credit: Damien Jouvenot, Département de Chimie Moléculaire (CNRS/Université Grenoble Alpes)

Mimicking photosynthesis in plants, using light to convert stable and abundant molecules like water and CO2 into a high energy fuel (hydrogen) or into chemicals of industrial interest, is a major research challenge today. However, achieving artificial photosynthesis in solution remains limited by the use of costly and toxic metal-based compounds to harvest light. Researchers at CNRS, CEA and the Université Grenoble Alpes propose an efficient alternative using semi-conductor nanocrystals (also called quantum dots) based on cheaper and less toxic elements, such as copper, indium and sulfur. Their work was published in Energy & Environmental Science on 10 April 2018.

In systems chromophores, or "photosensitizers", absorb light energy and transfer electrons to the catalyst, which activates the chemical reaction. Although much progress has been made in recent years in the development of catalysts devoid of noble metals, photosensitizers still rely, in the main, on molecular compounds containing rare and costly metals, such as ruthenium and iridium, or on inorganic semiconductor materials containing cadmium, a toxic metal.

For the first time, researchers at the Département de Chimie Moléculaire (CNRS/Université Grenoble Alpes) and SyMMES (CNRS/CEA/Université Grenoble Alpes)1 have demonstrated, by joining their expertise in semiconductor engineering and photocatalysis, that it is possible to produce hydrogen very efficiently by combining inorganic semiconductor nanocrystals (quantum dots) formed of a copper and indium sulfide core protected by a zinc sulfide shell, with a cobalt-based molecular catalyst. This "hybrid" system combines the excellent visible light absorption properties and the great stability of inorganic semiconductors with the efficacy of molecular catalysts. In the presence of excess vitamin C, which provides electrons to the system, it shows remarkable catalytic activity in water, the best obtained to date with cadmium-free quantum dots. This system's performance is much higher than that obtained with a ruthenium-based photosensitizer, due to the very high stability of inorganic , which can be recycled several times without notable loss of activity.

These results show the high potential of such hybrid systems for hydrogen production using solar energy.

Explore further

'Quantum dot' lighting technology takes forward leap thanks to new superacid treatment

More information: M. Sandroni et al. Cadmium-free CuInS2/ZnS quantum dots as efficient and robust photosensitizers in combination with a molecular catalyst for visible light-driven H2 production in water, Energy & Environmental Science (2018). DOI: 10.1039/c8ee00120k
Journal information: Energy & Environmental Science

Provided by CNRS
Citation: Cheaper, less toxic and recyclable light absorbers for hydrogen production (2018, April 10) retrieved 20 January 2021 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments