Highly fluorescent C-dots obtained by pyrolysis of quaternary ammonium ions trapped in all-silica ITQ-29 zeolite
C-dots obtained in the homogeneous phase may exhibit a broad particle size distribution. The formation of C-dots within nanometric reaction cavities could be a methodology to gain control on their size distribution. Among the various possibilities, in the present work, the cavities of small pore size zeolites have been used to confine C-dots generated by the pyrolysis of the organic structure directing agent present in the synthesis of these crystalline aluminosilicates. To explore this methodology, ITQ-29 zeolite having a Linde type A (LTA) structure was prepared as pure silica with 4-methyl-2,3,6,7-tetrahydro-1H,5H-pyrido[3.2.1-ij]quinolinium as the organic structure directing agent. Pyrolysis under an inert atmosphere at 550 °C of a pure-silica ITQ-29 sample (cubic particles of 4 μm edge) renders a highly fluorescent zeolite containing about 15 wt% of the carbonised residue. While another small pore zeolite, ITQ-12 (ITW), also renders photoluminescent C-dots under similar conditions, medium or large pore zeolites, such as silicalite (MFI) or pure silica Beta (BEA), failed to produce fluorescent powders under analogous thermal treatment and only decomposition and complete removal of the corresponding quaternary ammonium ion templates was observed for these zeolites. The dissolution of the pyrolysed ITQ-29 zeolite framework and the extraction of the carbon residue with ethyl acetate have allowed the characterisation of C-dots with particle sizes between 5 and 12 nm and a photoluminescence quantum yield of 0.4 upon excitation at 350 nm that is among the highest reported for non-surface functionalized C-dots. Photoluminescence varies with the excitation wavelength and is quenched by oxygen. Pyrolysed ITQ-29 powders can act as fluorescent oxygen sensors.