Scientists underscore the potential of a new class of materials to convert sunlight to fuel.
A team of researchers highlights in an article published in Coordination Chemistry Reviews the potential of covalent organic frameworks (COFs), a new class of light-absorbing materials, in solar-to-fuel production.
Photocatalysts absorb energy from light to make a chemical reaction happen. The best-known photocatalyst is perhaps chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that helps turn sunlight into carbohydrates. While carbohydrates may be falling out of favor, photocatalysis is garnering more attention than ever.
In a photocatalytic process, light falls on a photocatalyst, increases the energy of its electrons, and causes them to break their bonds and move freely through the catalyst. These “excited” electrons then react with the raw materials of a chemical reaction to produce desired products. A top priority in the field of alternate energy research is using photocatalysts to convert solar energy to fuel, a process called “solar-to-fuel production.”
As Dr. Pardeep Singh explains:
“Solar energy has been successfully tapped to make electricity, but we are not yet able to efficiently make liquid fuels from it. These solar fuels, like hydrogen, could be an abundant supply of sustainable, storable, and portable energy.”
The specialty of COFs lies in their ability to improve catalysis and add special substituent molecules called “functional groups” to their structure, providing a way around the limitations of existing photocatalysts. This is due to certain favorable properties of COFs such as chemical stability, controllable porosity, and strong electron delocalization, which make them extra stable.
Like the name suggests, COFs consist of organic molecules that are bonded together into a structure that can be tailored to suit various applications.
Moreover, strong electron delocalization means that, unlike in semiconductor photocatalysts, the excited electrons recombine midway only infrequently, resulting in more excited electrons for the chemical reaction. Since these reactions occur at the surface of the photocatalyst, the increased surface area and modifiable porosity of COFs is a huge advantage.
COF-photocatalysts find application in the conversion of water to hydrogen, and the production of methane from carbon dioxide, thus promising the dual benefit of producing fuel and mitigating global warming. Furthermore, they can even help with nitrogen fixation, plastics production, and storage of gases.
A new kind of COF, covalent triazine frameworks (CTFs), are currently at the cutting-edge of hydrogen production research. CTFs have 20-50 times the ability to produce hydrogen, compared to graphitic photocatalysts, making them a very promising option for future fuel production.
However, before putting the solar-powered cart before the horse, it is important to note that COF-based photocatalysts are at an early stage of development and still do not produce fuel as efficiently as their semiconductor-based counterparts.
Nevertheless, their outstanding properties and structural diversity make them promising candidates for future solar-to-fuel research and a viable solution for the ongoing energy crisis.
An optimistic Dr. Pankaj Raizada concludes:
“The most essential issue is to explore robust COFs-derived catalysts for the desired applications. It can be expected that COF-based photocatalysts will achieve a new milestone in the coming years.”
The Emerging Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs) for Solar-Driven Fuels Production
Coordination Chemistry Reviews
Changlei Xia1, Kent O. Kirlikovali2, Thi Hong Chuong Nguyen3,4, Xuan Cuong Nguyen3,4, Quoc Ba Tran3,4, Minh Khoa Duong5, Minh Tuan Nguyen Dinh5, Dang Le Tri Nguyen6,7, Pardeep Singh8, Pankaj Raizada8, Van-Huy Nguyen9, Soo Young Kim10, Laxman Singh11, Chinh Chien Nguyen3,4, Mohammadreza Shokouhimer12, Quyet Van Le10
- Nanjing Forestry University, China
- Northwestern University, United States
- Institute of Research and Development, Duy Tan University, Vietnam
- Faculty of Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Duy Tan University, Vietnam
- University of Science and Technology, The University of Da Nang, Viet Nam
- Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam
- Faculty of Applied Sciences, Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam
- Shoolini University, India
- Binh Duong University, Vietnam
- Korea University, South Korea
- R.R.S. College (Patliputra University), India
- Seoul National University, Republic of Korea
About the Authors
Dr. Pardeep Singh is a professor at Shoolini University. His area of research is graphene-based photocatalytic materials for depollution processes. His publications include 124 research papers and he has also filed 31 patents. Dr. Singh won the DST-Fast Track Young Scientist Award in 2013, and the Vice Chancellor Young Academician Award in 2019.
Dr. Pankaj Raizada is an associate professor at Shoolini University. Her research focuses on the design and synthesis of advanced photocatalytic materials for energy and environmental remediation. She has published over 102 research papers and seven book chapters and has received 21 patents. Dr. Raizada won the DST-Fast Track Young Scientist Award in 2015 and holds a funded project from the HP Council for Science, Technology, and Environment.
Press release by Shoolini University provided by Cactus Communications Group. Photo credit: Shoolini University.