Doped-nanocrystal/graphene hybrid structure for noble metal-free photocatalytic hydrogen production
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In typical semiconductor-based photocatalysis to produce hydrogen, noble metal co-catalysts, typically Pt or Pd, are often used to enhance the efficiency of charge carrier separation and transfer that are essential for the function of catalyst. This noble metal component makes the economics of the overall system untenable. Many approaches have been investigated to reduce the dependence on noble metals. In this award from the National Science Foundation Catalysis & Biocatalysis Program, Profs. Dong Hee Son and Hae-Kwon Jeong of Texas A&M University propose a new and more economical strategy based on unique material combinations and properties. The proposed research aims to greatly enhance hydrogen production efficiency of semiconductor-based photocatalysts by exploring the synergistic effect of transition metal doping of the semiconductor catalyst combined with the formation of a hybrid structure with reduced graphene oxide (RGO). The role played by the costly noble metal co-catalyst will be replaced by abundant transition metal dopant ions (e.g., Mn or Cu), which were recently shown to extend the electron lifetime in semiconductors and thus enhancing the efficiency of charge separation and transfer. The combination of the doped nanocrystals with RGO offers the advantage of a more efficient photocatalytic reduction reaction, facilitated by the RGO functioning as the large-area electrode. The investigative team will develop the correlation of the structure of nanocrystal/RGO hybrid photocatalysts with the efficiencies of key steps of photocatalytic reduction (i.e., charge separation, charge transfer) and the overall hydrogen production efficiency, leading to an optimized structure of the catalyst for hydrogen production.The educational component of the proposed research will focus on the development of experiments for undergraduate research as a part of training the participants in a NSF-REU program and in undergraduate research classes. These experiences will lead to the development of a transportable experiment kit that will be used on site at local high schools, with training of local high school teachers through a RET Program. This will be designed as a new component of the university-wide outreach effort, exploiting the dissemination mechanisms that are already in place at Texas A&M.