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Light Absorbers and Catalysts for Solar to Fuel Conversion


Increasing fossil fuel consumption and the resulting consequences to the environment has propelled research into means of utilizing alternative, clean energy sources. Solar power is among the most promising of renewable energy sources but must be converted into an energy dense medium such as chemical bonds to render it useful for transport and energy storage. Photoelectrochemistry (PEC), the splitting of water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel or reducing CO2 to hydrocarbon fuels via sunlight is a promising approach towards this goal.

Photoelectrochemical systems are comprised of several components, including light absorbers and catalysts. These parts must all synergistically function in a working device. Therefore, the continual development of each component is crucial for the overall goal. For PEC systems to be practical for large scale use, the must be efficient, stable, and composed of cost effective components. To this end, my work focused on the development of light absorbing and catalyst components of PEC solar to fuel converting systems.

In the direction of light absorbers, I focused of utilizing Indium Phosphide (InP) nanowires (NWs) as photocathodes. I first developed synthetic techniques for InP NW solution phase and vapor phase growth. Next, I developed light absorbing photocathodes from my InP NWs towards PEC water splitting cells.

I studied cobalt sulfide (CoSx) as an earth abundant catalyst for the reductive hydrogen evolution half reaction. Using in situ spectroscopic techniques, I elucidated the active structure of this catalyst and offered clues to its high activity.

In addition to hydrogen evolution catalysts, I established a new generation of earth abundant catalysts for CO2 reduction to CO fuel/chemical feedstock. I first worked with molecularly tunable homogeneous catalysts that exhibited high selectivity for CO2 reduction in non-aqueous media. Next, in order to retain molecular tunability while achieving stability and efficiency in aqueous solvents, I aimed to heterogenize a class of molecular porphyrin catalysts into a 3D mesoscopic porous catalytic structure in the form of a metal-organic framework (MOF).To do so, I initially developed a growth for thin film MOFs that were embedded with catalytic groups in their linkers.6 Next, I utilized these thin film MOFs grown on conductive substrates and functionalized with cobalt porphyrin units as 3D porous CO¬2 reduction catalysts. This new class of catalyst exhibited high efficiency, selectivity, and stability in neutral pH aqueous electrolytes.

Finally, as a last chapter of my work, I explored hybrid inorganic/biological CO2 reduction pathways. Specifically, I used time-resolved spectroscopic and biochemical techniques to investigate charge transfer pathways from light absorber to CO2-derived acetate in acetogenic self-sensitized bacteria.

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