Understanding Cobalt Oxide - A Promising Artificial Photosynthesis Catalyst

Jun 16 2019

For many years, scientists have sought to unlock the principles of photosynthesis, nature's energy source, to apply to humanity's energy challenges. These efforts eventually culminated in the demonstration of artificial photosynthesis (AP), in which the sun's energy is harnessed to transform water and carbon dioxide into high-energy fuels. Both natural and artificial photosynthesis depend on the action of catalysts, substances that orchestrate the critical bond-breaking and bond-making steps during fuel generation. While AP has been widely studied and tested, a lack of detailed information on the workings of the catalysts is still a major barrier to AP device improvement.

Simon Billinge, Professor of Materials Science and Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, along with a team of scientists from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Brookhaven National Laboratory, have made important progress in understanding one of the most promising AP catalysts, cobalt oxide. They converted a well-understood (though unstable) catalyst, a Co4O4 cubane, into a metal-organic framework (MOF),  dramatically increasing its stability and allowing them to unlock mechanistic insight for the improvement of cobalt oxide catalysts. This is a meaningful step in the understanding and rational tuning of materials for AP to meet the energy crisis facing society. Their findings were recently published in PNAS.

Article: Stabilization of reactive Co4O4 cubane oxygen-evolution catalysts within porous frameworks, Andy I. Nguyen, Kurt M. Van Allsburg, Maxwell W. Terban, Michal Bajdich, Julia Oktawiec, Jaruwan Amtawong, Micah S. Ziegler, James P. Dombrowski, K. V. Lakshmi, Walter S. Drisdell, Junko Yano, Simon J. L. Billinge, and T. Don Tilley,  PNAS June 11, 2019 116 (24) 11630-11639; first published May 29, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1815013116

Prof. Simon Billinge