Probing dynamics of water mass transfer in organic porous photocatalyst water-splitting materials by neutron spectroscopy

Zbiri, Mohamed and Aitchison, Catherine M. and Sprick, Reiner Sebastian and Cooper, Andrew I. and Guilbert, Anne A. Y. (2021) Probing dynamics of water mass transfer in organic porous photocatalyst water-splitting materials by neutron spectroscopy. Chemistry of Materials, 33 (4). pp. 1363-1372. ISSN 0897-4756 (

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The quest for efficient and economically accessible cleaner methods to develop sustainable carbon-free energy sources induced a keen interest in the production of hydrogen fuel. This can be achieved via the water-splitting process and by exploiting solar energy. However, the use of adequate photocatalysts is required to reach this goal. Covalent triazine-based frameworks (CTFs) are potential target photocatalysts for water splitting. Both electronic and structural characteristics of CTFs, particularly energy levels, optical band gaps, and porosities are directly relevant to water splitting and can be engineered through chemical design. Porosity can, in principle, be beneficial to water splitting by providing a larger surface area for the catalytic reactions to take place. However, porosity can also affect both charge transport within the photocatalyst and mass transfer of both reactants and products, thus impacting the overall kinetics of the reaction. Here, we focus on the link between chemical design and water (reactant) mass transfer, which plays a key role in the water uptake process and the subsequent hydrogen generation in practice. We use neutron spectroscopy to study the mass transfer of water in two porous CTFs, CTF-CN and CTF-2, that differ in the polarity of their struts. Quasi-elastic neutron scattering is used to quantify the amount of bound water and the translational diffusion of water. Inelastic neutron scattering measurements complement the quasi-elastic neutron scattering study and provide insights into the softness of the CTF structures and the changes in librational degrees of freedom of water in the porous CTFs. We show that two different types of interaction between water and CTFs take place in CTF-CN and CTF-2. CTF-CN exhibits a smaller surface area and lower water uptake due to its softer structure than CTF-2. However, the polar cyano group interacts locally with water leading to a large amount of bound water and a strong rearrangement of the water hydration monolayer, while water diffusion in CTF-2 is principally impacted by microporosity. The current study leads to new insights into the structure-dynamics-property relationship of CTF photocatalysts that pave the road for a better understanding of the guest-host interaction on the basis of water-splitting applications.


Zbiri, Mohamed, Aitchison, Catherine M., Sprick, Reiner Sebastian ORCID logoORCID:, Cooper, Andrew I. and Guilbert, Anne A. Y.;