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Harvesting multiple electron–hole pairs generated through plasmonic excitation of Au nanoparticles


Multi-electron redox reactions, although central to artificial photosynthesis, are kinetically sluggish. Amidst the search for synthetic catalysts for such processes, plasmonic nanoparticles have been found to catalyse multi-electron reduction of CO2 under visible light. This example motivates the need for a general, insight-driven framework for plasmonic catalysis of such multi-electron chemistry. Here, we elucidate the principles underlying the extraction of multiple redox equivalents from a plasmonic photocatalyst. We measure the kinetics of electron harvesting from a gold nanoparticle photocatalyst as a function of photon flux. Our measurements, supported by theoretical modelling, reveal a regime where two-electron transfer from the excited gold nanoparticle becomes prevalent. Multiple electron harvesting becomes possible under continuous-wave, visible-light excitation of moderate intensity due to strong interband transitions in gold and electron–hole separation accomplished using a hole scavenger. These insights will help expand the utility of plasmonic photocatalysis beyond CO2 reduction to other challenging multi-electron, multi-proton transformations such as N2 fixation.

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We acknowledge funding through an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Award. J.G.S. was supported by a CAREER award to P.K.J. from the National Science Foundation (rant NSF CHE-1455011). The work was carried out in part at the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at UIUC.

Author information

P.K.J. conceived the project and designed the experiments. Y.K. conducted the experiments. P.K.J. performed the theoretical modelling. Y.K. and P.K.J analysed the data. J.G.S. performed the structural characterization. Y.K. and P.K.J. co-wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Prashant K. Jain.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–13, Supplementary Tables 1 and 2, Supplementary Methods and Analysis

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Fig. 1: Electron transfer from plasmonically excited gold NPs.
Fig. 2: Dependence of the electron transfer rate on the photon flux.
Fig. 3: Effect of the hole scavenger on the propensity of multi-electron transfer.
Fig. 4: Effect of the excitation wavelength on the propensity of multi-electron transfer.