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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nanoscale metals and semiconductors for the storage of solar energy in chemical bonds

  • Author(s): Manthiram, Karthish
  • Advisor(s): Alivisatos, A. Paul
  • Maboudian, Roya
  • et al.
Abstract

The transduction of electrical energy into chemical bonds represents one potential strategy for storing energy derived from intermittent sources such as solar and wind. Driving the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide using light requires (1) developing light absorbers which convert photons into electron-hole pairs and (2) catalysts which utilize these electrons and holes to reduce carbon dioxide and oxidize water, respectively. For both the light absorbers and catalysts, the use of nanoscale particles is advantageous, as charge transport length scales are minimized in the case of nanoscale light absorbers and catalytic surface-area-to-volume ratio is maximized for nanoscale catalysts. In many cases, although semiconductors and metals in the form of thin films and foils are increasingly well-characterized as photoabsorbers and electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction, respectively, the properties of their nanoscale counterparts remain poorly understood.

This dissertation explores the nature of the light absorption mode of non-stoichiometric semiconductors which are utilized as light absorbers and the development of catalysts with enhanced stability, activity, and selectivity for carbon dioxide reduction. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the state of development of methods of transducing the energy of photons into chemical bonds.

Chapters 2 and 3 investigate the development of stable, active, and selective catalysts for the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide. Chapter 2 examines how copper nanoparticles have enhanced activities and selectivities for methanation compared to copper foils. Chapter 3 focuses on the development of strategies to stabilize high-surface-area catalysts to prevent surface area loss during electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction.

Chapters 4 and 5 entail a fundamental understanding of the light absorption mode of nanoscale photoabsorbers used in both photoelectrochemical cells and in photovoltaics. Chapter 4 focuses on the nature of the light absorption mode of non-stoichiometric tungsten oxide, a material which has been explored as a photoanode for the photon driven oxidation of water. Chapter 5 examines the tunability of the light absorption mode of nanoscale copper sulfide, a material which has been explored as a photoabsorber for photovoltaics. An understanding of the light absorption mode of non-stoichiometric oxides and sulfides at the nanoscale is critical for the use of these materials in redox active environments.

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