The role of inorganic materials in renewable energy applications

Pingyun Feng a and Zhigang Zou b
aDepartment of Chemistry, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
bCollaborative Innovation Center of Advanced Microstructures, National Laboratory of Solid State Microstructures, College of Physics, Nanjing University, 22 Hankou Road, Nanjing, 210093, People's Republic of China

Energy has been and will continue to be fundamental to our modern society. Abundant and readily available energy fuels our daily life by supporting our many needs and wants, including household utilities, communication equipment, transportation and travel around the world. Historically, changes in the way energy is accessed and utilized through technological breakthroughs have contributed to industrial and agricultural revolutions and transformed human daily life. Even though fossil fuels will remain a major source of energy for decades in the future, great progress in the development of renewable energy is starting to change our way of travel, electrical and heat supplies, and even small portable devices. Given the benefits of renewable energy to the global economy and environment, it has attracted increasing attention in both fundamental research and advanced applications. Inorganic chemistry and related materials have shown many applications for harnessing renewable energy and play a pivotal role in the development of environmentally friendly technologies for a sustainable society.

As inorganic and materials researchers, we hope to bring new concepts or novel strategies to understand and tune chemical and crystalline structures with the goal of influencing electronic states and energy transfer processes, and ultimately enhancing the materials’ efficiency. Indeed, in order to achieve these goals, across-the-board investigations are needed, including synthetic methods and in-depth understandings of mechanistic and kinetic aspects of the interactions between inorganic materials, usually acting as catalysts, and reactants. A collaborative work combining experimental, characterization, and theoretical expertise is required.

This themed issue provides a broad spectrum of studies and views on renewable energy production with approximately 30 papers, authored by well-known experts in their field. We are truly grateful for their excellent contributions. The issue focuses on the roles of inorganic materials as catalysts for advanced energy applications. More than a dozen contributions highlight water splitting (or half-reaction processes including hydrogen or oxygen evolution) for hydrogen production that offers an alternative approach for solar energy storage. Other contributions focus on the development of new materials for improved performance in CO2 reduction which can address issues such as the greenhouse-gas effect. Some special hydrogen storage approaches via organic compounds through hydrogenation and nitrobenzene reduction are also presented.

The materials presented in this themed issue include various inorganic catalytic materials, such as metal nanoparticles, metal oxides, as well as non-oxide materials. With various synthetic approaches, the materials reported here exhibit different morphologies, surface structures and, physical and chemical properties. Various templating strategies were also used to synthesize the materials with tunable bulk and surface structures, and properties. This themed issue demonstrates the rich diversity of inorganic materials and the important roles they play in the field of energy-related applications.

We have not attempted to mention all of the papers included in this issue, but instead we encourage you to discover their diversity, excellence, and novelty by reading this themed issue. We would like to thank the authors as well as reviewers for their effort and contributions. We also extend our sincere thanks to the staff at Dalton Transactions, in particular Debora Giovanelli and Abigail Hallowes, for their dedication, enthusiasm, and hard work in bringing this issue together.

We hope that you enjoy reading it!

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2017