Coupling carbon dioxide reduction with water oxidation in nanoscale photocatalytic assemblies
The reduction of carbon dioxide by water with sunlight in an artificial system offers an opportunity for utilizing non-arable land for generating renewable transportation fuels to replace fossil resources. Because of the very large scale required for the impact on fuel consumption, the scalability of artificial photosystems is of key importance. Closing the photosynthetic cycle of carbon dioxide reduction and water oxidation on the nanoscale addresses major barriers for scalability as well as high efficiency, such as resistance losses inherent to ion transport over macroscale distances, loss of charge and other efficiency degrading processes, or excessive need for the balance of system components, to mention a few. For the conversion of carbon dioxide to six-electron or even more highly reduced liquid fuel products, introduction of a proton conducting, gas impermeable separation membrane is critical. This article reviews recent progress in the development of light absorber–catalyst assemblies for the reduction and oxidation half reactions with focus on well defined polynuclear structures, and on novel approaches for optimizing electron transfer among the molecular or nanoparticulate components. Studies by time-resolved optical and infrared spectroscopy for the understanding of charge transfer processes between the chromophore and the catalyst, and of the mechanism of water oxidation at metal oxide nanocatalysts through direct observation of surface reaction intermediates are discussed. All-inorganic polynuclear units for reducing carbon dioxide by water at the nanoscale are introduced, and progress towards core–shell nanotube assemblies for completing the photosynthetic cycle under membrane separation is described.