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Greenhouse-inspired supra-photothermal CO2 catalysis


Converting carbon dioxide photocatalytically into fuels using solar energy is an attractive route to move away from a reliance on fossil fuels. Photothermal CO2 catalysis is one approach to achieve this, but improved materials that can more efficiently harvest and use solar energy are needed. Here, we report a supra-photothermal catalyst architecture—inspired by the greenhouse effect—that boosts the performance of a catalyst for CO2 hydrogenation compared to traditional photothermal catalyst designs. The catalyst consists of a nanoporous-silica-encapsulated nickel nanocrystal (Ni@p-SiO2), which is active for methanation and reverse water–gas shift reactions. Under illumination, the local temperatures achieved by Ni@p-SiO2 exceed those of Ni-based catalysts without the SiO2 shell. We suggest that the heat insulation and infrared shielding effects of the SiO2 sheath confine the photothermal energy of the nickel core, enabling a supra-photothermal effect. Catalyst sintering and coking is also lessened in Ni@p-SiO2, which may be due to spatial confinement effects.

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Fig. 1: Characterization of Ni@p-SiO2-30.
Fig. 2: Enhanced photothermal effect.
Fig. 3: Greenhouse-like effect.
Fig. 4: Thermal stability.
Fig. 5: Photothermal catalytic performance.

Data availability

The authors declare that all data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and Supplementary Information files. Source data are provided with this paper.


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We acknowledge the support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51920105005, 51802208, 21902113, 51821002, 91833303), the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BK20200101), 111 project and the Collaborative Innovation Centre of Suzhou Nano Science & Technology. G.A.O. is grateful to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada for support of this work.

Author information




L.H., G.A.O. and X.Z. conceived the idea and supervised the project. M.C., Z.W., W.S. and W.L. carried out the preparation of materials. M.P., S.W., L.W., K.F. and A.S.H. contributed to the characterizations. M.C., Z.W., Z.L. and L.W. performed the catalytic testing. M.C., A.T. and C.L. contributed to the calculation of the Tlocal of catalysts. All authors discussed the results and co-wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Le He or Geoffrey A. Ozin or Xiaohong Zhang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Energy thanks Hermenegildo Garcia and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–34, Tables 1–3, Notes 1–2 and references.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Statistic source data.

Source Data Fig. 5

Statistic source data.

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Cai, M., Wu, Z., Li, Z. et al. Greenhouse-inspired supra-photothermal CO2 catalysis. Nat Energy 6, 807–814 (2021).

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