Our research line is focused on a rational design of nanostructured photocatalytic systems based on multicomponent heterojunctions that can efficiently convert polluting compounds into high-value chemicals and fuels. On the other hand, we are also devoted to the development of light-driven photocatalytic micromotors for environmental applications. Both approaches are in line with the sustainable development goals from the EU, including clean energy generation and water decontamination.
Photocatalytic conversion of CO2
The dramatic increase of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the excessive use of fossil fuels has become an important environmental issue, contributing to the global warming effects, such as ocean acidification, the rise of sea levels, and greenhouse gases. A promising strategy to counteract the negative impact of atmospheric CO2 emissions deals with their valorization into fuels and high-value chemicals. Particularly, the use of renewable sources, such as sunlight and water, provides an environmentally friendly route to achieve such a conversion. By learning from nature, in which photosynthetic systems convert CO2 and H2O into O2 and carbohydrates, advanced photocatalytic materials with similar capabilities can be designed.
We aim to develop nanostructured materials for the gas-phase conversion of CO2 in the presence of water under sun-like irradiation and dark cycles. Since the reaction will be performed in the gas phase, it is anticipated an improvement in the mass-transfer and selectivity rates, due to major coverage of CO2 onto the surface of the catalysts. Thus, our main goal is to fabricate supported photocatalysts with one-dimensional heterostructures for enhancing light harvesting and electron mobility, which will result in higher photocatalytic performances than those obtained with bulk semiconductors. Moreover, these photocatalytic systems will be provided with advanced light conversion abilities, e.g., NIR-light response and light energy storage/release. Such new features will be crucial not only to promote their photoactivation in the full range of the solar spectrum but also to maintain their photoactivity under intermittent light/dark cycles in a similar way to natural photosynthetic systems. This project will offer all the necessary understanding behind the factors that influence the photocatalytic CO2 conversion in the gas phase, thus, opening up new horizons for the rational design of nanostructured materials for the generation of renewable energy as well as offering alternative routes to counteract CO2 contamination.
Photocatalytic materials are also ideal candidates for fabricating photoactive micromotors that can absorb light energy to induce chemical reactions, leading to their self-propulsion under light irradiation. Since these photocatalytic micromachines can also generate highly oxidizing species upon illumination, they can be used as multifunctional self-propelled devices that can harvest light energy, swim and degrade organic-based pollutants, and/or inactivate pathogenic microorganisms in contaminated water.