Development and characterization of inexpensive, earth-abundant materials for efficient photocatalyzed synthesis

2014-2015 E²SHI Seed Grant

Research Team

Susanna ThonAssistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Engineering

Arthur Bragg, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, School of Arts & Sciences


The chemical industry currently uses about 6% of all energy consumed in the United States. Reducing this footprint by developing more efficient synthetic processes would have far-reaching direct and indirect consequences for the energy landscape, because of the influence of the chemical industry on the fuels and manufacturing sectors.

Photocatalysis – or using light as a catalyst to increase photoreaction rates – is of particular interest as a sustainable alternative to conventional methods of organic synthesis. Implementing photocatalytic synthesis on a large-scale requires efficiently utilizing light and relies on rare and expensive catalyst materials such titanium dioxide – and therefore poses great challenges to bringing this type of synthesis to scale.

Doctors Thon and Bragg are researching ways to design, fabricate, and characterize new plasmonic-catalytic systems based on nanoparticles containing aluminum to enhance light absorption in titanium dioxide. Aluminum is a non-toxic earth-abundant metal and the shape and composition of aluminum nanoparticles can be adjusted to use solar radiation, particularly visible and near ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The team hopes the project will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive plasmonic-photocatalytic organic synthesis platform based on scalable, earth-abundant, non-toxic materials with the potential to transform cost and energy efficiency for chemical synthesis.


What is photocatalysis?

Article: New technique makes solar cells more efficient

A chemical plant on the Houston Ship Channel near Baytown, Texas. Photo credit: Bert Marshall.

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