New efficient catalyst for key step in artificial photosynthesis

Chemists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have designed a new catalyst that speeds up the rate of a key step in "artificial photosynthesis" -- an effort to mimic how plants, algae, and some bacteria harness sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into energy-rich fuels. This step -- called water oxidation -- releases protons and electrons from water molecules, producing oxygen as a byproduct.

This "single-site" catalyst -- meaning the entire reaction sequence takes place on a single catalytic site of one molecule -- is the first to match the efficiency of the catalytic sites that drive this reaction in nature. The single-site design and high efficiency greatly improve the potential for making efficient solar-to-fuel conversion devices.

"The end goal is to break out those molecular building blocks -- the protons and electrons -- to make fuels such as hydrogen," said David Shaffer, a Brookhaven research associate and lead author on a paper describing the work in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. "The more efficient the water oxidation cycle is, the more energy we can store."

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