Self-assembled nanoparticle-stabilized photocatalytic reactors†
The efficiency of nanostructured photocatalysts continues to improve at an impressive pace and is closing in on those needed for commercial applications; however, present-day reactor strategies used to deploy these nanostructures fail to achieve the sufficient areas (>1 m2) needed for solar application. Here we report the Self-assembled Nanoparticle-stabilized Photocatalytic Reactor (SNPR), a fully-scalable reactor strategy comprised only of nanoparticles adsorbed at the fluid–fluid interfaces of oil-in-water emulsions, water-in-oil emulsions, and CO2-in-water foams. We show that SNPRs naturally disperse over open water and need no physical substrate, requiring only photocatalysts and fluid. In environmental applications the SNPR provides more than double the reaction rate of a comparable single-phase reactor. In continuous mode, the SNPR achieves 100% photocatalyst retention and processes 96% of the stream over 20 hours; in contrast, the performance of a comparable aqueous suspension declines to zero over this interval, losing all photocatalyst to the outlet stream. We further characterize the photoactivity of individual photocatalytic droplets, with reactants in both the continuous and dispersed phases. These results demonstrate SNPRs as a robust and flexible reactor strategy and a route-to-scale for nanomaterials.