Activating plasmonic chemistry

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Science  05 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6410, pp. 28-29
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav1133

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Industrial applications of photocatalysis have remained elusive, and perhaps the simplest explanation is that the cost-to-benefit ratio of triggering a chemical reaction by using light usually pales in comparison to a purely thermal driven process. For many years, the conversion cycle of sunlight into chemical energy was strictly confined to the involvement of materials such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, well-known photocatalysts whose light absorption poorly overlaps the solar spectrum. More recently, however, plasmonic nanoparticles have been reported that can drive photoreactions and can be engineered to operate efficiently across the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. On page 69 of this issue, Zhou et al. (1) demonstrate that by illuminating a plasmonic metal nanoparticle, the resulting hot-carriers that are produced can reduce the activation barrier of a chemical reaction by exciting the adsorbed molecules, either electronically or vibrationally. The study proves this for a model system, unlocking the rate limiting step—the kinetic bottleneck—for ammonia decomposition onto a copper-ruthenium alloyed catalyst.