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Copper Claims First As Near-Infrared Photocatalyst

A mix of structural geometries in Cu2(OH)PO4’s lattice provides an optimal electronic structure for absorbing near-infrared sunlight

by Stephen K. Ritter
April 8, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 14

Credit: Baibiao Huang
This SEM image provides detail of Cu2(OH)PO4 microcrystals.
Crystals of a dicopper phosphate hydroxide catalyst, the first photocatalyst that works under near-infrared light.
Credit: Baibiao Huang
This SEM image provides detail of Cu2(OH)PO4 microcrystals.

Photocatalysts that work by absorbing sunlight are beneficial in enhancing chemical reactions, such as splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and the detoxification of organic pollutants in wastewater. In a search to improve photocatalyst efficiency, a research team led by Baibiao Huang of Shandong University, in China, has found a copper mineral, Cu2(OH)PO4, that is the first photocatalyst known to be active in the near-infrared portion of the solar spectrum (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., DOI: 10.1002/anie.201301306). Most photocatalysts, such as titanium dioxide for example, are activated by ultraviolet light. But UV light makes up only about 5% of sunlight. Chemists must add a dye or dopant atoms to the photocatalyst to make use of the visible part of the solar spectrum. Although an improvement, that strategy still leaves out most near-IR light, which makes up about 45% of sunlight. The secret to the new copper catalyst’s reactivity is its crystal lattice, which is made of distorted trigonal bipyramidal and octahedral geometric sites. This arrangement helps separate reactive electron-hole pairs generated when the copper(II) ions absorb near-IR light, in addition to UV and visible light. The researchers tested the catalyst by using it to decompose the fungicide 2,4-dichlorophenol in aqueous solution. They suggest that the dual coordination environment is a promising model for developing other sunlight-driven photocatalysts.


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