Photocatalysis processes for hydrogen generation via Artificial Photosynthesis and Water Purification
In many living organisms photosynthesis converts the energy from sunlight into a flux of charged particles (electrons and protons) which drive the synthesis of sugars, energy-rich molecules which are the human body fuel. In this way solar energy is stored in the form of chemical bonds and used on demand.
The artificial photosynthesis aims to mimic the natural process, not for exactly replicate the processes of molecular architectures that are still too complex, but by learning from nature the basic principles.
In our lab apparatus, sunlight drives the transformation of water in a photoelectrochemical cell where photoelectrodes absorb visible photons generating positive and negative charges which are separated and thus react with water to generate O2 and H2. Hydrogen is a carbon-free fuel and its use generates electrical current and hot water resulting in a closed cycle where water and sun are renewable sources. The research at IdEA labs is focused on the development of photoelectrodes from low-cost and environmentally-friendly materials such as iron, titanium, and tungsten. An important strategy to enhance the efficiency of these materials is to structure their surfaces at the nanoscale, thus greatly increasing the area in contact with the reactant.
The nanostructured surfaces find another useful application to remediation of industrial wastewater via photocatalytic degradation of organic pollutants with cobalt-based nanomaterials.