Solar-driven reduction of CO₂: from homogeneous to heterogeneous catalytic systems

Rapidly increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and their damaging impact on the global climate system raise doubts about the sustainability of the fossil resource based energy system. Meanwhile, raising living standards and increasing global population lead to an ever growing need for energy. Renewable energy sources are believed to present a solution to these problems with the sheer abundance of solar energy showing particular promise to fulfill the world's energy needs. However, for large scale application of solar energy to be possible, the problem of its storage has to be addressed. The insufficient flexibility of present-day storage technologies has led to the quest for producing solar fuels, centering on hydrogen as a fuel in a prospective hydrogen economy. Nevertheless, the gaseous state, low volumetric energy density and explosive nature of hydrogen makes it a challenging fuel for practical applications. Using solar energy to produce carbon-based liquid fuels solves these challenges, closes the anthropogenic carbon cycle and allows for the continued utilization of existing infrastructures. A promising method for the production of such fuels consists in the photoelectrochemical and electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide. In this thesis, both methods are investigated using molecular homogeneous catalysts and heterogeneous systems. The photoelectrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide on TiO2-protected Cu2O photocathodes was investigated using a rhenium bipyridyl catalyst in solution. Important charge transport limitations were encountered, which could be overcome by the addition of protic additives to the electrolyte. Improving on this result, the molecular catalyst was covalently immobilized on the TiO2 surface of the photocathode by modifying the bipyridyl ligand with a phosphonate binding group. A nanostructure of TiO2 was needed to support sufficient catalyst to sustain the photocurrent generated by the Cu2O photoelectrode. The complete device showed photocurrents exceeding 2.5 mA cm-2 and large faradaic efficiency for the production of CO. Moving toward heterogeneous catalysis, the promotion of the CO2 to CO conversion reaction on silver surfaces by imidazolium cations was investigated. Replacing the imidazolium C2 proton with a phenyl substituent led to an enhancement of the co-catalytic effect. Replacing the C4 and C5 protons with methyl groups, however, suppressed the catalysis-promoting effect of the imidazolium salt for different C2 substituents and led to new insights into the role of imidazolium. The unassisted solar-driven splitting of CO2 into CO and O2 was demonstrated using water as electron source. This was achieved by the use of a porous gold cathode and an IrO2 anode, driven by three methylammonium lead iodide perovskite solar cells in series. Extended operation over 18 h was shown, achieving a solar to CO efficiency exceeding 6.5 %. Atomic layer deposition (ALD) modification of CuO nanowire cathodes with SnO2 was investigated, leading to striking impacts on the catalytic selectivity of this system. In an aqueous electrolyte, bare CuO led to the production of a wide spectrum of products, which was modified to the production of CO with high selectivity upon ALD modification. By exploiting the oxygen evolving activity of SnO2-coated CuO, a low cost bifunctional system was constructed, achieving sustained solar-driven production of CO with up to 13.4% efficiency.


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