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Photocatalytic solar energy conversion

Department of Chemistry

About the Project

There is a clear need to develop processes that minimise the consumption of limited energy resources and reduce waste detrimental to the environment. Catalysis plays a central role for reducing waste and energy consumption and is consequently used in ca. 90% of industrial chemical products. Nevertheless, there is significant scope to develop new catalysis and apply energy more directly than simply heating, including solar energy. The focus of our work is the development of materials and processes that can be applied to heterogeneous photocatalysis, which would not only provide the benefits inherent to heterogeneous processes, including easy catalyst separation, but also exploit an essentially limitless supply of free energy.

Projects are available to study the synthesis of solar fuels and also selective transformation of organic molecules. All projects are underpinned by light absorption, charge separation and redox catalysis. For example semiconductors or metal complexes can be used for light absorption or redox catalysis and combinations of suitable materials can be prepared to absorb light across the visible spectrum to generate an excited state that can undergo charge separation to give reducing and oxidizing equivalents that can drive redox reactions.
Example reactions for solar fuels synthesis include water splitting for hydrogen and oxygen production, and carbon dioxide reduction for e.g. methanol, both of which essentially store solar (photon) energy in chemical bonds. These reactions represent solar energy conversion to storable chemical fuels (solar fuels) providing a renewable source of energy that can be used on demand (e.g. for transportation).
The second class of reaction is focussed on light-driven organic reactions using semiconductor solids, such as metal oxides that are cheap and are easily recycled. For example, selective oxidation of organic molecules can be achieved using molecular oxygen which is in contrast to commonly used metal and organic oxidants that generate significant waste.

However, although there has been significant progress developing photocatalytic reactions there still remain significant challenges to improve efficiency and reduce corrosion using Earth abundant materials. We are studying the development of new photocatalytic systems and also try to gain a deeper understanding of known systems to guide improvements using a range of spectroscopic and electrochemical analytical techniques. Specific projects can be discussed prior application.

This project will provide specific training in materials synthesis using a range of techniques including metal complex synthesis, hydrothermal synthesis and electrospray deposition; characterisation techniques including electron microscopy, powder x-ray diffraction, various spectroscopies (Infra-red, Raman, Fluorescence, diffuse reflectance and time-resolved photoluminescence) and electrochemistry; and analytical methods relating to photocatalytic reactions including gas chromatography and determination of photocatalytic efficiency. Overall the training will support acquisition of skills in inorganic and materials chemistry with the opportunity to develop expertise in one or more of the above techniques. All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject. Please check the entry requirements for your country:

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor’s name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

Funding Notes

This project is available to students from any country who can fund their own studies. The Department of Chemistry at the University of York is pleased to offer Wild Fund Scholarships. Applications are welcomed from those who meet the PhD entry criteria from any country outside the UK. Scholarships will be awarded on supervisor support, academic merit, country of origin, expressed financial need and departmental strategy. For further details and deadlines, please see our website: View Website

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