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Au@Cu7S4 yolk@shell nanocrystals set new hydrogen production activity record under visible and near infrared irradiation

Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University have developed an innovative Au@Cu7S4 yolk@shell photocatalyst which is responsive to both visible and near infrared (NIR) region wavelengths. This photocatalyst has demonstrated remarkable efficiency in solar hydrogen production, achieving an excellent quantum yield under illumination by both visible and NIR light.

The sunlight received by Earth is a mixture of wavelengths ranging from ultraviolet to visible to infrared. Each wavelength carries inherent energy that, if effectively harnessed, holds great potential to facilitate solar hydrogen production and diminish reliance on non-renewable energy sources. Nonetheless, existing solar hydrogen production technologies face limitations in absorbing light across this broad spectrum, particularly failing to harness the potential of NIR light energy that reaches Earth.

Recent research has identified that both Au and Cu7S4 nanostructures exhibit a distinctive optical characteristic known as localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR). It can be precisely adjusted to absorb wavelengths spanning the visible to NIR spectrum.

A team of researchers, led by Associate Professor Tso-Fu Mark Chang and Lecturer Chun-Yi Chen from Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Professor Yung-Jung Hsu from National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, seized this possibility and developed an innovative Au@Cu7S4 yolk@shell nanocrystal capable of producing hydrogen when exposed to both visible and NIR light.


An open-access paper on their findings were published in Nature Communications.

The research team utilized an ion-exchange reaction for the synthesis of Au@Cu7S4 nanocrystals, which were subsequently analyzed using high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, X-ray absorption spectroscopy and transient absorption spectroscopy to investigate the structural and optical properties. These investigations confirmed that Au@Cu7S4 features a yolk@shell nanostructure, endowed with dual-plasmonic optical properties. Furthermore, ultrafast spectroscopy data revealed that Au@Cu7S4 maintained long-lived charge separation states when exposed to both visible and NIR light, highlighting its potential for efficient solar energy conversion.

The research team discovered that the yolk@shell nanostructures inherent to the Au@Cu7S4 nanocrystals notably enhanced their photocatalytic capabilities.

The confined space within the hollow shell improved the molecular diffusion kinetics, thereby augmenting the interactions among reactive species. Additionally, the mobility of the yolk particles played a crucial role in establishing a homogeneous reaction environment as they were able to agitate the reaction solution effectively.

—Dr. Chen

Consequently, this photocatalyst reached a peak quantum yield of 9.4% in the visible range (500 nm) and achieved a record-breaking quantum yield of 7.3% in the NIR range (2200 nm) for hydrogen production. Distinctively, unlike conventional photocatalytic systems, this novel approach eliminates the need for co-catalysts to enhance hydrogen production reactions.

Overall, the study introduces a sustainable photocatalytic platform for solar fuel generation that boasts remarkable hydrogen production capabilities and sensitivity to a broad spectrum of light. It showcases the potential of leveraging the LSPR properties of Au and Cu7S4 for the effective capture of previously untapped NIR energy.


  • Tsao, CW., Narra, S., Kao, JC. et al. (2024) “Dual-plasmonic Au@Cu7S4 yolk@shell nanocrystals for photocatalytic hydrogen production across visible to near infrared spectral region.” Nat Commun 15, 413. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-44664-3



If the capital costs are low enough, just a few hours a day can payback the expense, otherwise it's a laboratory exercise.


To quote the Spartans: "If"
However, it does sound interesting. If it was even fairly good, but expensive, you could put it on 2d trackers (or a smart 1d tracker) to get say 10 hours light / day for most of the year. Also, since you are generating a transportable fuel, you could place the trackers in sunny places like Morocco or Sicily, rather than keeping them close to the point of utilization.
And/Or use concentrators.


If capital cost is reasonable, this method could be used in sunny areas and hydrogen could be chieper then using costly electrolysers and huge amount of electricity.

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