Processable dispersions of photocatalytically active nanosheets derived from titanium diboride: self assembly into hydrogels and paper-like macrostructures†
Titanium diboride (TiB2), a layered ceramic material, is well-known for its ultrahigh strength, wear resistance, and chemical inertness. In this work, we present a simple one-pot chemical approach that yields sheet-like nanostructures from TiB2. We serendipitously found that TiB2 crystals can undergo complete dissolution in a mild aqueous solution of H2O2 under ambient conditions. This unexpected dissolution of TiB2 is followed by non-classical recrystallization that results in nanostructures with sheet-like morphology exhibiting Ti–O and B–O functional groups. We show that this pathway can be used to obtain an aqueous dispersion of nanosheets with concentrations ≥3 mg mL−1. Interestingly, these nanosheets tend to transform into a hydrogel without the need of any additives. We found that the degree of gelation depends on the ratio of TiB2 to H2O2, which can be tuned to achieve gels with a shear modulus of 0.35 kPa. We also show this aqueous dispersion of nanosheets is processable and forms hierarchical paper-like macrostructures upon vacuum filtration. Such an ability to assemble into free-standing 3D structures would enable a leap to practical applications. We also show that the high surface area and presence of oxy-functional groups on these nanosheets endow them a superior photocatalytic activity to degrade organic pollutants. This exemplifies the rich potential that TiB2 offers upon nanoscaling. The results presented here not only add a novel material to the 2D flatland but also urge the scientific community to revisit the chemistry of metal borides, that have been traditionally considered as relatively inert ceramics.