Spectral Engineering of Hybrid Biotemplated Photonic/Photocatalytic Nanoarchitectures
Solar radiation is a cheap and abundant energy for water remediation, hydrogen generation by water splitting, and CO2 reduction. Supported photocatalysts have to be tuned to the pollutants to be eliminated. Spectral engineering may be a handy tool to increase the efficiency or the selectivity of these. Photonic nanoarchitectures of biological origin with hierarchical organization from nanometers to centimeters are candidates for such applications. We used the blue wing surface of laboratory-reared male Polyommatus icarus butterflies in combination with atomic layer deposition (ALD) of conformal ZnO coating and octahedral Cu2O nanoparticles (NP) to explore the possibilities of engineering the optical and catalytic properties of hybrid photonic nanoarchitectures. The samples were characterized by UV-Vis spectroscopy and optical and scanning electron microscopy. Their photocatalytic performance was benchmarked by comparing the initial decomposition rates of rhodamine B. Cu2O NPs alone or on the butterfly wings, covered by a 5 nm thick layer of ZnO, showed poor performance. Butterfly wings, or ZnO coated butterfly wings with 15 nm ALD layer showed a 3 to 3.5 times enhancement as compared to bare glass. The best performance of almost 4.3 times increase was obtained for the wings conformally coated with 15 nm ZnO, deposited with Cu2O NPs, followed by conformal coating with an additional 5 nm of ZnO by ALD. This enhanced efficiency is associated with slow light effects on the red edge of the reflectance maximum of the photonic nanoarchitectures and with enhanced carrier separation through the n-type ZnO and the p-type Cu2O heterojunction. Properly chosen biologic photonic nanoarchitectures in combination with carefully selected photocatalyst(s) can significantly increase the photodegradation of pollutants in water under visible light illumination.