To solve the global energy and environmental issues highly efficient systems for solar energy conversion and storage are needed. One of them involves the photocatalytic conversion of solar energy into the storable fuel molecular hydrogen via the water splitting process utilizing metal-oxide semiconductors as catalysts. Since photocatalytic water splitting is still a rather poorly understood reaction, fundamental research in this field is required.
Herein, the photocatalytic activity for water splitting was investigated utilizing La-doped NaTaO3 as a model photocatalyst. The activity of La-doped NaTaO3 was assessed by the determination of the overall quantum yield of molecular hydrogen and molecular oxygen evolution. In pure water La-doped NaTaO3 exhibits rather poor activity for the photocatalytic H2 evolution whereby no O2 was detected.
To enhance the photocatalytic activity the surface of La-doped NaTaO3 was modified with various cocatalysts including noble metals (Pt, Au and Rh) and metal oxides (NiO, CuO, CoO, AgO and RuO2). The photocatalytic activity was evaluated in pure water, in aqueous methanol solution, and in aqueous silver nitrate solution. The results reveal that cocatalysts such as RuO2 or CuO exhibiting the highest catalytic activity for H2 evolution from pure water, possess, however, the lowest activity for O2 evolution from aqueous silver nitrate solution.
La-doped NaTaO3 modified with Pt shows the highest quantum yield of 33 % with respect to the H2 evolution in the presence of methanol. To clarify the role of methanol in such a photocatalytic system, long-term investigations and isotopic studies were performed. The underlying mechanisms of methanol oxidation were elucidated.