Characterizing photocatalysts for water splitting: from atoms to bulk and from slow to ultrafast processes
Research on light-driven catalysis has gained tremendous importance due to the ever-increasing power consumption and the threatening situation of global warming related to burning fossil fuels. Significant efforts have been dedicated to artificial photosynthesis mimicking nature to split H2O into H2 and O2 by solar energy. Novel semiconductor und molecular photocatalysts focusing on one-step excitation processes via single component photocatalysts or via two-step excitation processes mimicking the Z-scheme of natural photosynthesis are currently developed. Analytical and physicochemical methods, which provide information at different time and length scales, are used to gain fundamental understanding of all processes leading to catalytic activity, i.e., light absorption, charge separation, transfer of charges to the reaction centres and catalytic turnover, but also understanding degradation processes of the photocatalytic active material. Especially, molecular photocatalysts still suffer from limited long-term stability due to the formation of reactive intermediates, which may lead to degradation. Although there is an overwhelming number of research articles and reviews focussing on various materials for photocatalytic water splitting, to date only few reviews have been published providing a comprehensive overview on methods for characterizing such materials. This review will highlight spectroscopic, spectroelectrochemical, and electrochemical approaches in respect to their potential in studying processes in semiconductor and (supra)molecular photocatalysts. Special emphasis will be on spectroscopic methods to investigate light-induced processes in intermediates of sequential electron transfer chains. Further, microscopic characterization methods, which are predominantly used for semiconducting and hybrid photocatalytic materials will be reviewed as surface area, structure, facets, defects, and bulk properties such as crystallinity and crystal size are key parameters for charge separation, transfer processes and suppression of charge recombination. Recent developments in scanning probe microscopy will also be highlighted as such techniques are highly suited for studying photocatalytic active material.