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Chemistry at the nexus of water and energy

Our ability to harness reactions that absorb or release energy is often contingent on water as a mediator. We can appreciate this simply by considering the steam that drives our electricity-generating turbines, the rivers that flow through our hydroelectric plants, and the freshwater–saltwater interface from which we can harvest blue energy. Whether we split water (as plants do), make it (as a product of combustion) or just drink it, this compound is inexorably tied to energy. Chemistry is at the heart of these topics and this collection brings together content from across Nature Research that focuses on the chemistry of energy production and water treatment.

Artificial intelligence can speed up research into new photovoltaic, battery and carbon-capture materials, argue Edward Sargent, Alán Aspuru-Guzikand colleagues.

Comment | | Nature

The tunable bandgap of perovskites and their combination in multi-junction solar cells can afford highly efficient photovoltaic technologies. This Review reports the latest developments in tandem multi-junction perovskite solar cells and discusses prospects for this technology to achieve energy conversion efficiencies well beyond those attained by silicon-based cells.

Review Article | | Nature Reviews Chemistry

The technological progress made since the industrial revolution has brought with it one of our greatest challenges: how to power our world while also minimizing environmental harm. This Perspective highlights the important role that quantum chemistry has in sustainable energy research.

Perspective | | Nature Reviews Chemistry

Converting oxygen-rich biomass into fuels requires the removal of oxygen groups through hydrodeoxygenation. MoS2 monolayer sheets decorated with isolated Co atoms bound to sulfur vacancies in the basal plane have now been synthesized that exhibit superior catalytic activity, selectivity and stability for the hydrodeoxygenation of 4-methylphenol to toluene when compared to conventionally prepared materials.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

Singlet fission — the conversion of one singlet exciton into two triplet excitons, could improve the efficiency of photovoltaic devices — but its mechanism is still to be fully understood. Now, in films of TIPS-tetracene, it has been shown that the formation of the triplet pair state, which has been proposed to mediate singlet fission, is ultrafast and vibronically coherent in this endothermic fission system.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

It is still a great challenge to synthesize value-added products with two or more carbons directly from CO2. Now, a bifunctional catalyst composed of reducible metal oxides (In2O3) and zeolites (HZSM-5) is prepared and yields high selectivity to gasoline-range hydrocarbons (78.6%) with a high octane number directly from CO2 hydrogenation.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

Direct hydrogenation of CO2 into liquid fuels can mitigate CO2 emissions and reduce the rapid depletion of fossil fuels. Here, the authors show an iron-based multifunctional catalyst that converts CO2 to gasoline with high selectivity due to synergistic cooperation of multiple catalytic active sites.

Article | open | | Nature Communications

Metal-organic frameworks are candidates for future energy storage materials, but are limited by poor conductivity and random crystal orientation on current collectors. Here, fabrication of electrodes containing uniformly oriented crystals supported by carbon nanowalls leads to improved electrochemical performance.

Article | open | | Communications Chemistry

Sodium-ion batteries are an appealing alternative to lithium-ion batteries because they use raw materials that are less expensive, more abundant and less toxic. The background leading to such promises is carefully assessed in terms of cell and battery production, as well as raw material supply risks, for sodium-ion and modern lithium-ion batteries.

Perspective | | Nature Reviews Materials