Humanity grows more power hungry every day and scientists are looking at ways to satisfy this hunger. One approach is to get inspiration from plants and develop artificial photosynthesis that can efficiently harvest and store solar energy.
There are many approaches that are currently being investigated and researchers from the US and China have now successfully produced the first dual-atom catalyst for artificial photosynthesis. The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Our research concerns the technology for direct solar energy storage," Boston College Associate Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang, a lead author of the report, said in a statement. "It addresses the critical challenge that solar energy is intermittent. It does so by directly harvesting solar energy and storing the energy in chemical bonds, similar to how photosynthesis is performed but with higher efficiencies and lower cost."
The catalyst is made of iridium, bridged by an oxygen atom, and anchored to a metal support. It has a lot going for it. It is relatively simple to make. It is very durable. And it is very efficient, facilitating the water oxidation reaction which is one of the aims of artificial photosynthesis.
This new catalyst is part of a broad class of new materials that includes both single-atom catalysts and nanoparticles, which have been studied extensively. But catalysts made of few atoms, although widely used in industry, have not received the same amount of attention. The team used the powerful X-ray laser at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Advanced Light Source to better understand this iridium catalyst.
The researchers wanted to find out "what the smallest active and most durable heterogeneous catalyst unit for water oxidation could be," said Wang. "Previously, researchers have asked this question and found the answer only in homogeneous catalysts, whose durability was poor. For the first time, we have a glimpse of the potential of heterogeneous catalysts in clean energy production and storage."
The new tech is not ready just yet. The team is planning to study the catalyst further to make it better and also understand what other industrial application it might have beyond artificial photosynthesis.