Date of Award

Spring 2016

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Gonghu Li

Second Advisor

Howard R. Mayne

Third Advisor

Richard P. Johnson


Solar fuel generation via carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction is a promising approach to meet the increasing global demand for energy and to minimize the impact of energy consumption on climate change. However, CO2 is thermodynamically stable; its activation often requires the use of appropriate catalysts. In particular, molecular catalysts with well-defined structures and tunability have shown excellent activity in photochemical CO2 reduction. These homogenous catalysts, however, suffer from poor stability under photochemical conditions and difficulty in recycling from the reaction media. Heterogenized molecular catalysts, particularly those prepared by coupling molecular catalysts with solid-state surfaces, have attracted more attention in recent years as potential solutions to address the issues associated with molecular catalysts.

In this work, solar CO2 reduction is investigated using systems coupling molecular catalysts with robust nanostructured surfaces. In Chapter 2, heterogenization of macrocyclic cobalt(III) and nickel (II) complexes on mesoporous silica surface was achieved by different methods. Direct ligand derivatization significantly lowered the catalytic activity of Co(III) complex, while grafting the Co(III) complex onto silica surface through Si-O-Co linkage resulted in hybrid catalysts with excellent activity in CO2 reduction in the presence of p-terphenyl as a molecular photosensitizer. An interesting loading effect was observed, in which the optimal activity was achieved at a medium Co(III) surface density. Heterogenization of the Ni(II) complex on silica surface has also been implemented, the poor photocatalytic activity of the hybrid catalyst can be attributed to the intrinsic nature of the homogeneous analogue. This study highlighted the importance of appropriate linking strategies in preparing functional heterogenized molecular catalysts.

Coupling molecular complexes with light-harvesting surfaces could avoid the use of expensive molecular photosensitizers. In Chapter 3, effective coupling of the macrocyclic Co(III) complex with titanium dioxide (TiO¬2) nanoparticles was achieved by two deposition methods. The synthesized hybrid photocatalysts were thoroughly characterized with a variety of techniques. Upon UV light irradiation, photoexcited electrons in TiO2 nanoparticles were transferred to the surface Co(III) catalyst for CO2 reduction. Production of carbon monoxide (CO) from CO2 was confirmed by isotope labeling combined with infrared spectroscopy. Deposition of the Co(III) catalyst through Ti-O-Co linkages was essential for the photo-induced electron transfer and CO2-reduction activity using the hybrid photocatalysts.

In Chapter 4, molecular Re(I) and Co(II) catalysts were coupled with silicon-based photoelectrodes, including a silicon nanowire (SiNW) photoelectrode, to achieve photoelectrochemical CO2 reduction. Photovoltages between 300-600 mV were obtained using the molecular catalysts on the silicon photoelectrodes. SiNWs exhibited enhanced properties, including significantly higher photovoltages than a planar silicon photoelectrode, the ability to protect one of the molecular catalysts from photo-induced decomposition, and excellent selectivity towards CO production in CO2 reduction.

Recent theoretical and experimental work have demonstrated low-energy, binuclear pathways for CO2-to-CO conversion using several molecular catalysts. In such binuclear pathways, two metal centers work cooperatively to achieve two-electron CO2 reduction. Chapter 5 describes our effort to promote the binuclear pathway by grafting the molecular Co(III) catalyst onto silica surfaces. Different linking strategies were attempted to achieve this goal by planting the surface Co(III) sites in close proximity.