Resorcinol–formaldehyde resins as metal-free semiconductor photocatalysts for solar-to-hydrogen peroxide energy conversion


Artificial photosynthesis is a critical challenge in moving towards a sustainable energy future. Photocatalytic generation of hydrogen peroxide from water and dioxygen (H2O + \(\frac{1}{2}\)O2 → H2O2, ΔG° = 117 kJ mol–1) by sunlight is a promising strategy for artificial photosynthesis because H2O2 is a storable and transportable fuel that can be used directly for electricity generation. All previously reported powder photocatalysts, however, have suffered from low efficiency in H2O2 generation. Here we report that resorcinol–formaldehyde resins, widely used inexpensive polymers, act as efficient semiconductor photocatalysts to provide a new basis for H2O2 generation. Simple high-temperature hydrothermal synthesis (~523 K) produces low-bandgap resorcinol–formaldehyde resins comprising π-conjugated and π-stacked benzenoid–quinoid donor–acceptor resorcinol couples. The resins absorb broad-wavelength light up to 700 nm and catalyse water oxidation and O2 reduction by the photogenerated charges. Simulated sunlight irradiation of the resins stably generates H2O2 with more than 0.5% solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency. Therefore, this metal-free system shows significant potential as a new artificial photosynthesis system.

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Fig. 1: Structure of RF resins.
Fig. 2: Structural and electronic properties of RF resins.
Fig. 3: Photocatalytic properties of RF resins.
Fig. 4: Solid-state DD/MAS/13C-NMR charts for the RF523 resins.
Fig. 5: Energy diagrams and interfacial plots.

Data availability

All experimental data within the Article and its Supplementary Information are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was supported by the Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology (PRESTO) programme (JPMJPR1442) under the supervision of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).

Author information

Y.S. directed this project. T.T., T.Ha., S.M., Y.Ko. and T.Hi. conducted the experimental work and analysed the data. Y.Ki. performed computational calculations. S.T. performed XPS measurements. S.I. performed TEM observations. The manuscript was written by Y.S. with contributions from the other coauthors.

Correspondence to Yasuhiro Shiraishi.

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Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Figs. 1–22, Supplementary references 1–3

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Shiraishi, Y., Takii, T., Hagi, T. et al. Resorcinol–formaldehyde resins as metal-free semiconductor photocatalysts for solar-to-hydrogen peroxide energy conversion. Nat. Mater. 18, 985–993 (2019).

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