In Pursuit of Water Oxidation Catalysts for Solar Fuel Production

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Science  16 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5976, pp. 315-316
DOI: 10.1126/science.1187721

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Roughly three-fourths of the power generated globally comes from burning fossil fuels. For solar energy to compete directly as a replacement, technologies are needed to capture this energy in a chemical form—as a fuel—so it can be used when sunlight is not available. One bottleneck in the development of practical solar fuels is the water oxidation reaction. Water is the only potential source of electrons capable of reducing protons to H2 or CO2 to carbonaceous fuels on a global scale. Thus, while there may be many options for reduction catalysts, redox cycling inevitably requires the coupling of reduction reactions to water oxidation (see the figure, panel A). On page 342 of this issue, Yin et al. (1) report on a water-soluble water oxidation catalyst that has a reaction center containing four cobalt (Co) atoms. Its surrounding ligands are not organic groups but are polyoxotungstate (PW9O349−) anions that resemble the solid oxide supports of heterogeneous catalysts. This catalyst weds the best features of extant heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysts while remedying many of their respective disadvantages.