Artificial photosynthesis, in which we emulate the process used by nature to capture energy from the sun and convert it into electrochemical energy, is expected to be a major asset in any sustainable energy portfolio for the future. Artificial photosynthesis offers the promise of producing liquid fuels that are renewable and can be used without exacerbating global climate change. A key to realizing commercial-scale artificial photosynthesis technology is the development of electrocatalysts that can efficiently and economically carry out water oxidation reaction that is critical to the process. Heinz Frei, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, has been at the forefront of this research effort. His latest results represent an important step forward.
“The oxidation of water to molecular oxygen is a four-electron process involving multiple steps,” Frei says. “We’ve obtained the first direct, temporally resolved observation of two intermediate steps in water oxidation using an Earth-abundant solid catalyst, cobalt oxide, that allowed us to identify the kinetic bottlenecks. With this knowledge, we can devise and design improvements on the cobalt oxide catalyst and its support environment to partially or completely remove these bottlenecks and improve the efficiency of water oxidation.” Via Researchers identify key intermediate steps in artificial photosynthesis reaction.