Tailoring MOFs and COFs for artificial photosynthesis

Over a couple of decades, solar-to-chemical energy conversion—so called “artificial photosynthesis”—has been regarded as a holy grail that enables a carbon-neutral production and use of fuels and chemicals. In principle, various kinds of chemicals can be produced using semiconducting materials or photosensitizers with a proper bandgap and band-edge positions for target redox reactions. Despite conceptual simplicity and elegance, the realization of artificial photosynthesis is a highly challenging task. Its realization requires not only the development of various functional components such as light-harvesting, charge separation/ transporting, and catalytically active materials, but also their rational and precise assembly into an integrated device. Conventional solar-to-chemical conversion devices are mainly composed of inorganic materials and suffer from low efficiency and poor stability issues. These issues originate from the intrinsic problems of conventional inorganic materials, such as low absorption coefficient, high recombination of charge carriers, low electrical conductivity, poor catalytic activity. Furthermore, they have limited flexibility in engineering their physicochemical properties compared to organic materials.

Figure 1. Solar-to-chemical energy conversion by (a) powder-type photocatalysts and (b) photoelectrochemical (PEC) cells.

On the other hand, porous reticular materials such as metal organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs) are recently drawing huge attention from researchers as promising functional materials. The structure and properties of MOFs and COFs can be tailored by employing various metal nodes and/or organic linkers, introducing additional functional groups, and employing different symmetry combinations, even with similar building blocks. These have led to the boom of studies about their design and synthesis for various applications such as catalysis, separation, sensing, etc.

Figure 2. Schematic illustration of the structure and properties of MOFs and COFs.

Recently, Prof. Jungki Ryu, Hyunwoo Kim, and Nayeong Kim at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) reported a comprehensive review paper especially about the application of MOFs and COFs in solar-to-chemical energy conversion. Porous structure and readily tunable physicochemical properties of MOFs and COFs can be highly beneficial to improve light absorption, charge separation, and access to reactants. As a result, they have been employed as diverse functional components for various target photo-reactions, such as hydrogen evolution reaction, oxygen evolution reaction, and CO2 reduction reaction. To help readers readily understand recent progress and challenges in the application of MOFs and COFs for solar-to-chemical energy conversion, they have organized more than 200 recent studies on the basis of their function and target reaction in chronological order. In addition, they reviewed the application of MOFs and COFs parallelly to provide insights for researchers. For example, one can find similar strategies employed for their application and also expect future research directions for relatively new COFs based on the research progress for MOFs. Lastly, they pointed out that further studies are required especially for the growth of MOF and COF thin films to make more significant research progress in the application of MOFs and COFs for artificial photosynthesis.

Jungki Ryu is an associate professor in the UNIST School of Energy and Chemical Engineering. He received his bachelor’s and PhD degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from Yonsei University in 2006 and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in 2011, respectively. Before joining UNIST in 2014, he had worked as a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 3 years. He is currently interested in designing innovative electrochemical and photoelectrochemical devices inspired by nature for a sustainable future. Currently, he is the author of more than 50 articles indexed by SCI(E) and cited over 3,000 times with an H-index of 28.

Homepage: https://www.bioinspired-materials.com/

Twitter account: @bfml_unist, @jungki1981

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