Instrument at BESSY II shows how light activates MoS2 layers to become catalysts

</p> <p>A new instrument at BESSY II can be used to study molybdenum-sulfide thin films that are of interest as catalysts for solar hydrogen production. A light pulse triggers a phase transition from the semiconducting to the metallic phase and thus enhances the catalytic activity.</p> <p>

A new instrument at BESSY II can be used to study molybdenum-sulfide thin films that are of interest as catalysts for solar hydrogen production. A light pulse triggers a phase transition from the semiconducting to the metallic phase and thus enhances the catalytic activity.

© Martin Künsting /HZB

Thin films of molybdenum and sulfur belong to a class of materials that can be considered for use as photocatalysts. Inexpensive catalysts such as these are needed to produce hydrogen as a fuel using solar energy. However, they are still not very efficient as catalysts. A new instrument at the Helmholtz-Berlin Zentrum’s BESSY II now shows how a light pulse alters the surface properties of the thin film and activates the material as a catalyst.

MoS2 thin films of superposed alternating layers of molybdenum and sulfur atoms form a two-dimensional semiconducting surface. However, even a surprisingly low-intensity blue light pulse is enough to alter the properties of the surface and make it metallic. This has now been demonstrated by a team at BESSY II.

Enhanced catalytic activity in the metallic phase

The exciting thing is that the MoS2 layers in this metallic phase are also particularly active catalytically. They can then be employed, for example, as catalysts for splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen. As inexpensive catalysts, they could facilitate the production of hydrogen – an energy carrier whose combustion produces no CO2, only water.

New at BESSY II: SurfaceDynamics@FemtoSpeX

Physicist Dr. Nomi Sorgenfrei and her team have constructed a new instrument at BESSY II to precisely measure the changes in samples using temporally-resolved electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis (trESCA) when irradiating the samples with low-intensity, ultra-short light pulses. These light pulses are generated at BESSY II using femtosecond time-slicing (femtoslicing) and are therefore both low intensity and extremely short duration. The new instrument, named SurfaceDynamics@FemtoSpeX, can also rapidly obtain meaningful measurements of electron energies, surface chemistry, and transient alterations using these low-intensity light pulses.

Observation of the phase transition

Analysis of the empirical data showed that the light pulse leads to a transient accumulation of charge at the surface of the sample, triggering the phase transition at the surface from a semiconducting to a metallic state.

“This phenomenon should also occur in other representatives of this class of materials, the p-doped semiconducting dichalcogenides, so it opens up possibilities of influencing functionality and catalytic activity in a deliberate way”, Sorgenfrei explains.

arö

You might also be interested in

  • New monochromator optics for tender X-rays
    Science Highlight
    30.11.2022
    New monochromator optics for tender X-rays
    Until now, it has been extremely tedious to perform measurements with high sensitivity and high spatial resolution using X-ray light in the tender energy range of 1.5 - 5.0 keV. Yet this X-ray light is ideal for investigating energy materials such as batteries or catalysts, but also biological systems. A team from HZB has now solved this problem: The newly developed monochromator optics increase the photon flux in the tender energy range by a factor of 100 and thus enable highly precise measurements of nanostructured systems. The method was successfully tested for the first time on catalytically active nanoparticles and microchips.
  • Nanodiamonds can be activated as photocatalysts with sunlight
    Science Highlight
    30.11.2022
    Nanodiamonds can be activated as photocatalysts with sunlight
    Nanodiamond materials have potential as low-cost photocatalysts. But until now, such carbon nanoparticles required high-energy UV light to become active. The DIACAT consortium has therefore produced and analysed variations of nanodiamond materials. The work shows: If the surface of the nanoparticles is occupied by sufficient hydrogen atoms, even the weaker energy of blue sunlight is sufficient for excitation. Future photocatalysts based on nanodiamonds might be able to convert CO2 or N2 into hydrocarbons or ammonia with sunlight.
  • Tomography shows high potential of copper sulphide solid-state batteries
    Science Highlight
    28.11.2022
    Tomography shows high potential of copper sulphide solid-state batteries
    Solid-state batteries enable even higher energy densities than lithium-ion batteries with high safety. A team led by Prof. Philipp Adelhelm and Dr. Ingo Manke succeeded in observing a solid-state battery during charging and discharging and creating high-resolution 3D images. This showed that cracking can be effectively reduced through higher pressure.