Condensed ferric dimers for green photocatalytic synthesis of nylon precursors†
Although iron oxides have been extensively studied as photocatalysts because of their abundance and environmental compatibility, their performance is notoriously low due to factors such as low photoinduced charge-separation efficiency. Iron oxides, thus, must be modified with expensive and/or toxic materials to attain higher performances, which devalues their appeal as sustainable materials. Here, we design an iron oxide exhibiting an unprecedentedly high photocatalytic performance unrealized by previous photocatalysts such as TiO2 for reactions including the selective oxidation of cyclohexane to industrial nylon precursors. The iron oxide photocatalyst consists of ferric dimers, otherwise extremely unstable, formed via etching of Fe and O sites from ferric oxide nanoparticles immobilized within porous silica. We demonstrate a remarkably high photoinduced charge-separation efficiency (long lifetime of active species) of the ferric dimers due to their electronic structure and the potential of this supported photocatalyst for many more reactions.