Disputation: Atomic Scale Modelling in Photoelectrocatalysis: Towards the Development of Efficient Materials for Solar Fuel Production

  • Date:
  • Location: Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1 Å80101
  • Doctoral student: Giane B. Damas
  • Contact person: Carlos Moyses Araujo, Rajeev Ahuja
  • Disputation


Using sunlight to produce valuable chemicals has been pointed out as an interesting alternative to deal with the well-known environmental problem related to the use of fossil fuels for energy generation. Thus, it is crucial for this field the development of novel photocatalysts that could drive the uphill reactions with high efficiency while presenting low price and toxicity. In this context, conjugated polymers with a donor-acceptor architecture have shown good photoactivity for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) due to their advantageous properties, including a broad UV-Vis absorption spectrum and thermodynamic driving force to carry out the charge transfer processes. In this thesis, a series of fluorene- and benzothiadiazole-based polymers are evaluated by means of ab initio methods as potential candidates for photocatalytic HER. A set of small-molecules with well-defined molecular weight have also been considered for this application. In general, tailoring a chemical unit has enabled an improvement of the absorption capacity in benzo(triazole-thiadiazole)-based polymers and cyclopentadithiophene-based polymers, with a higher impact exhibited upon acceptor tailoring. On the other hand, all systems under investigation present favorable thermodynamics for proton reduction or hole removal by an appropriate sacrificial agent. In particular, it is demonstrated the active role played by nitrogen atoms from the acceptor units in the hydrogenation process, whose binding strength is significantly decreased in benzo(triazole-thiadiazole)-based polymers. Furthermore, the extension of the electron-hole separation has been assessed through the calculation of the exciton binding energies, which are diminished with an improvement in the donating ability on cyclopentadithiophene-based materials.

In another approach to deal with the aforementioned problem, it has been considered the direct conversion of carbon dioxide into formic acid, an important chemical that finds applications in fuel cells, medicine and food industries. In this thesis, such electrocatalytic process has been investigated by using Sn-based electrodes and Ru-complexes. In the former case, a solid-state modelling approach based on slab geometries to model surface states has been employed to explore the reaction thermochemistry. The outcomes support the reaction mechanism where the carbon dioxide insertion into the Sn-OH bond is a thermodynamically favorable step prior to reduction, which has a redox potential in fair agreement with the measurements carried out by our collaborators. In a Ru-complex, the reaction mechanism is likely to follow the route with natural production of CO due to ligand release after the first reduction process, which is further protonated to originate the active species. In this case, the insertion occurs at the Ru-H bond to generate a carbon-bound species that is the intermediate in the formic acid production after the second protonation step. Finally, it has been studied the physical adsorption of carbon dioxide in metal-organic frameworks with a varying metallic center in a theoretical point of view.