The Middle Road Less Taken: Electronic-Structure-Inspired Design of Hybrid Photocatalytic Platforms for Solar Fuel Generation.
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The development of efficient solar energy conversion to augment other renewable energy approaches is one of the grand challenges of our time. Water splitting, or the disproportionation of H2O into energy-dense fuels, H2 and O2, is undoubtedly a promising strategy. Solar water splitting involves the concerted transfer of four electrons and four protons, which requires the synergistic operation of solar light harvesting, charge separation, mass and charge transport, and redox catalysis processes. It is unlikely that individual materials can mediate the entire sequence of charge and mass transport as well as energy conversion processes necessary for photocatalytic water splitting. An alternative approach, emulating the functioning of photosynthetic systems, involves the utilization of hybrid systems wherein different components perform the various functions required for solar water splitting. The design of such hybrid systems requires the multiple components to operate in lockstep with optimal thermodynamic driving forces and interfacial charge transfer kinetics. This Account describes a new class of nanoscale heterostructures comprising M xV2O5 nanowires, where M is a p-block cation with a ( n - 1) d10 ns2 np0 electronic configuration characterized by a stereoactive lone pair of electrons and x is its stoichiometry, interfaced with II-VI semiconductor quantum dots (QDs). Photocatalytic water splitting involves the transfer of excited-state holes from QDs to mid-gap states (derived from the stereoactive lone pairs of p-block cations) of nanowires, hole transport through nanowires, the reduction of protons at a QD-immobilized catalyst, and water oxidation at an anode. The M xV2O5/QD architectures provide a vast design space for evolutionary optimization of function with considerable tunability of composition and structure of the individual components as well as of the interfacial structure, thereby facilitating programmability of absorption spectra, energetic offsets, and charge-transfer reactivity. The available design space spans choice of the p-block cation M, its stoichiometry x, the composition and size of various QDs, and the nature of the nanowire/QD interface. This multivariate parameter space has been navigated by integrating first-principles modeling, diversified synthesis, spectroscopic measurements, and catalytic evaluation to facilitate the rational design of several generations of heterostructures and the systematic improvement of their photocatalytic performance. The electronic structures of the target heterostructures are predicted by DFT calculations in light of the revised lone pair model of stereoactive structural distortions and evaluated by hard X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy such as to systematically tune the interfacial band offsets. Central to this approach is the development of a topochemical "etch-a-sketch" intercalation approach that allows for facile installation of p-block cations in metastable polymorphs of V2O5. The interfacial charge transfer kinetics of M xV2O5/QD heterostructures is further evaluated by transient absorption spectroscopy to measure excited-state charge-transfer dynamics and is found to depend sensitively on interfacial structure and the thermodynamic driving forces in accordance with Marcus theory. The integration of theory and experiment has allowed for the design of viable photocatalytic architectures exemplified by the exceptional catalytic performance of -Pb xV2O5/CdX (X= S, Se) architectures, which has subsequently been elaborated to other lone-pair M xV2O5 compounds, demonstrating the effective exploitation of the opportunities for programmability available in the design space.