Whether rising fuel prices or failures in power grids, the consequences of the global energy crisis can hardly be overlooked. The need for alternative fuel sources is greater than ever, but despite the popularity of solar panels, much of the solar energy remains untapped. A multinational team of researchers is now investigating existing research on covalent organic frameworks (COFs), a new class of light-absorbing compounds, as a potential solution for efficient solar-powered fuel production.
Photocatalysts absorb energy from light to start a chemical reaction. Perhaps the most famous photocatalyst is chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that helps convert sunlight into carbohydrates. While carbohydrates may fall out of favor, photocatalysis is attracting more attention than ever. In a photocatalytic process, light falls on a photocatalyst, increasing the energy of its electrons, causing them to break their bonds and move freely through the catalyst.
These “excited” electrons then react with the raw materials in a chemical reaction to form the desired products. The top priority in the field of alternative energy research is the use of photocatalysts to convert solar energy into fuel, a process called “solar-to-fuel production”.
In an article published in Coordination Chemistry Reviews, Dr. Changlei Xia from Nanjing Forestry University, China; Dr. Kent Kirlikovali from Northwestern University, USA; Dr. Thi Hong Chuong Nguyen, Dr. Xuan Cuong Nguyen, Dr. Quoc Ba Tran and Dr. Chinh Chien Nguyen from Duy Tan University, Vietnam; Dr. Minh Khoa Duong and Dr. Minh Tuan Nguyen Dinh from Da Nang University, Vietnam; Dr. Dang Le Tri Nguyen from Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam; Dr. Pardeep Singh and Dr. Pankaj Raizada from Shoolini University, India; Dr. Van-Huy Nguyen from Binh Duong University, Vietnam; Dr. Soo Young Kim and Dr. Quyet Van Le from Korea University, South Korea; Dr. Laxman Singh from Patliputra University, India; and Dr. Mohammadreza Shokouhimer from Seoul National University, South Korea, highlighted the potential of covalent organic frameworks (COFs), a new class of light-absorbing materials, in solar-to-fuel production.
Dr. Pardeep Singh explains: “Solar energy has been successfully used to generate electricity, but we are not yet able to use it to efficiently produce liquid fuels 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, which offers a way to circumvent 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 particularly stable.
As the name suggests, COFs are made up of organic molecules linked into a structure that can be tailored for different applications. In addition, strong electron delocalization means that, unlike semiconductor photocatalysts, the excited electrons rarely recombine halfway, which leads to more excited electrons for the chemical reaction. Since these reactions take place on the surface of the photocatalyst, the increased surface area and the modifiable porosity of COFs is a great advantage.
COF photocatalysts are used in the conversion of water to hydrogen and in the production of methane from carbon dioxide, thus promising the dual benefits of fuel production and the mitigation of global warming. In addition, they can even help with nitrogen fixation, plastics manufacturing, and gas storage.
A new type of COF, covalent triazine frameworks (CTFs), are currently at the forefront of research into hydrogen generation. CTFs have 20 to 50 times the ability to produce hydrogen compared to graphitic photocatalysts, making them a promising option for future fuel production.
Before we put the solar-powered cart in front of the horse, however, it’s important to note that COF-based photocatalysts are in an early stage of development and are not yet producing 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. “The most important topic is the research of robust COFs-derived catalysts for the desired applications. It is to be expected that COF-based photocatalysts will reach a new milestone in the coming years ”, summarizes Dr. Pankaj Raizada optimistically together.
Research report: “The Emerging Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs) for solar-powered fuel production”
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