Synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials for photocatalysis

Solar power is a massive, underused, and free source of energy, which can cover our present and future energetic demand.

This project is advertised as part of the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. It is currently not available to self-funded applicants. Find out more information about the DTP including how to apply.

However, its deployment has been hindered by the high prices of the standard photovoltaic systems and the variability of solar irradiation along the day and the year. One interesting approach is the development of systems able to store this energy in the form of solar fuels. In this sense, the use of the solar irradiation for CO2 conversion into valuable chemicals (methane or methanol), or hydrogen production from water splitting, presents several attractive characteristics. Apart from storing solar energy, it promotes clean energy devices, like fuel cells, or reduces the carbon footprint by converting the problematic CO2 molecule into valuable products.

Traditional materials employed for these two reactions are wide band gap semiconductors, only absorbing the UV part of the solar spectrum, and thus presenting low efficiency. Semiconductors with lower band gaps, like the ones used in solar cells, can serve as photocatalysts for hydrogen generation or CO2 photo-reduction, as long as they present the band edge positions at adequate energy levels.

In this context, this project proposes the development, characterization, and optimization of low band gap semiconductors for solar fuel production. It will explore the performance of new semiconductors in these processes and will look for solutions to overcome limitations, for example the use of surface treatments or the introduction of metallic nanoparticles as co-catalysts.

The research challenges include: 1) The synthesis and characterization of low band gap semiconductors; 2) The evaluation of the photocatalytic properties in hydrogen production from water splitting or CO2 photo-reduction; 3) The effect of introducing co-catalysts, or surface treatments, on photocatalytic properties; and 4) The optimization of the photocatalysts for efficiency improvement.

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