Acta Phys. -Chim. Sin. ›› 2023, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (4): 2206006.doi: 10.3866/PKU.WHXB202206006

Special Issue: Festschrift Honoring Professor Youchang Xie on his 90th Birthday

• ARTICLE • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Metallic Tungsten Carbide Coupled with Liquid-Phase Dye Photosensitizer for Efficient Photocatalytic Hydrogen Production

Yonggang Lei1,2, Tianyu Zhao3, Kim Hoong Ng4, Yingzhen Zhang1, Xuerui Zang5, Xiao Li1, Weilong Cai1,2, Jianying Huang1,2, Jun Hu3, Yuekun Lai1,2,*()   

  1. 1 National Engineering Research Center of Chemical Fertilizer Catalyst (NERC-CFC), College of Chemical Engineering, Fuzhou University, Fuzhou 350116, China
    2 Qingyuan Innovation Laboratory, Quanzhou 362801, Fujian Province, China
    3 School of Chemical Engineering, Northwest University, Xi'an, 710069, China
    4 R & D Center of Biochemical Engineering Technology, Ming Chi University of Technology, New Taipei 24301, Taiwan, China
    5 College of Pipeline and Civil Engineering, China University of Petroleum (East China), Qingdao 266580, Shandong Province, China
  • Received:2022-06-04 Accepted:2022-06-29 Published:2022-07-01
  • Contact: Yuekun Lai
  • Supported by:
    the National Natural Science Foundation of China(22075046);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(51972063);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(21676216);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(21501127);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(51502185);National Key Research and Development Program of China(2019YFE0111200);Natural Science Funds for Distinguished Young Scholar of Fujian Province(2020J06038);Natural Science Foundation of Fujian Province(2019J01256);111 Project(D17005);China postdoctoral science foundation(前期站, 2019TQ0061);Special Project of Shaanxi Provincial Education Department(20JC034);Kim Hoong Ng thanks Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), Taiwan, and Ming Chi University of Technology (MCUT) for the financial supports(MOST-110-2222-E-131-004-);Kim Hoong Ng thanks Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), Taiwan, and Ming Chi University of Technology (MCUT) for the financial supports(VK000-1300-111)


Tungsten carbide (WC) is commonly used as a photocatalytic material for hydrogen production via water reduction. However, it is often combined with an effective photoabsorber to provide sufficient photoactivity. This is attributed to the narrow band gap of WC, which leads to an inadequate redox capability for water reduction. Notably, this limitation was overcome using a novel solid-liquid photocatalytic system that compliments bare WC photocatalysts with liquid-phase photosensitizing erythrosine B (ErB). The proposed concept eliminates the need to couple WC with photoabsorbing semiconductors, which often requires tedious procedures for the proper functionalization of photocatalytic composites. The experimental results indicated significant hydrogen production from the proposed solid-liquid photocatalytic system under irradiation with visible light (λ = 520 nm); however, only in the presence of triethanolamine (TEOA) as a sacrificial reagent. Evidently, a blank experiment with only WC and ErB under typical photoreaction conditions exhibited nearly zero photoactivity and the production of H2 was undetected. Similarly, nonactivity was observed for the photoreaction in the presence of ErB or WC in the irradiated TEOA solution. These blank experiments confirmed the significance of all three components, namely WC, ErB, and TEOA, which functioned as the photocatalyst, photoabsorber, and sacrificial reagent, respectively, for suitable H2 production in the proposed system. The effects of three critical parameters, such as pH, ErB concentration, and WC concentration, were systematically investigated. The optimum pH for H2 production was 8, with a slight variation to more basic or acidic conditions reducing the photoactivity of the system. At pH < 8, part of TEOA undergoes partial protonation, thereby losing its activity as a sacrificial reagent in the photocatalytic system. As the pH increased to > 8, the low proton concentration in the reaction medium perturbed the thermodynamic drive, leading to suppressed H2 production. The optimum ErB concentration was 1 mmol·L-1, and decreasing or increasing the ErB concentration from the optimal point was detrimental to H2 production. The diluted system (ErB concentration < 1 mmol·L-1) provided insufficient sensitizing agents, whereas the concentrated system (> 1 mmol·L-1 ErB) induced significant scattering effects that prevent light from penetrating into the reactive liquid phase. Conversely, the WC concentration exhibited a positive correlation with H2 production in a steady manner, and the highest H2 production measured by the system was at a WC concentration of 12 mmol·L-1. Under optimum conditions, 66 μmol∙h-1 of H2 was successfully produced, with a slightly higher apparent quantum efficiency (AQE) of 6.6% at 520 nm, which was attributed to the synergism of ErB-TEOA-WC in the proposed system. The photoelectrochemical evaluation confirmed the positive interactions between ErB, TEOA, and WC, which caused reduced impedance while improving charge utilization in the system. Consequently, an excellent H2 turnover number (TON) of 15 was achieved with negligible activity decay for at least 20 h of reaction. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations confirmed the major roles of W- and C-vacant sites in H2 production, which were attributed to their enhanced product desorption that facilitates high turnover rates during photoreactions. In conclusion, the proposed novel liquid-solid photocatalytic WC/ErB/TEOA system provides more facile photo-derived H2 energy from water, which circumvents the tedious photoabsorber coupling of metal carbide photocatalysts.

Key words: Liquid-phase, WC, Erythrosine B, Triethanolamine, Photocatalysis, H2 production