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Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering

Front. Environ. Sci. Eng.    2018, Vol. 12 Issue (5) : 14
Review on design and evaluation of environmental photocatalysts
Xin Li1(), Jun Xie1, Chuanjia Jiang2, Jiaguo Yu2, Pengyi Zhang3()
1. College of Forestry and Landscape Architecture, Key Laboratory of Energy Plants Resource and Utilization, Ministry of Agriculture, Key Laboratory of Biomass Energy of Guangdong Regular Higher Education Institutions, South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou 510642, China
2. State Key Laboratory of Advanced Technology for Materials Synthesis and Processing, Wuhan University of Technology, Wuhan 430070, China
3. School of Environment, State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation & Pollution Control, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
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Fundamentals on the photocatalytic degradation were systematically summarized.

Charge carrier dynamics for the photocatalytic degradation were reviewed.

Adsorption and photodegradation kinetics of reactants were highlighted.

The mechanism aspects, including O2 reduction, reactive oxidation species and key intermediates were also addressed.

Selectivity and stability of semiconductors for photodegradation were clarified.

Heterogeneous photocatalysis has long been considered to be one of the most promising approaches to tackling the myriad environmental issues. However, there are still many challenges for designing efficient and cost-effective photocatalysts and photocatalytic degradation systems for application in practical environmental remediation. In this review, we first systematically introduced the fundamental principles on the photocatalytic pollutant degradation. Then, the important considerations in the design of photocatalytic degradation systems are carefully addressed, including charge carrier dynamics, catalytic selectivity, photocatalyst stability, pollutant adsorption and photodegradation kinetics. Especially, the underlying mechanisms are thoroughly reviewed, including investigation of oxygen reduction properties and identification of reactive oxygen species and key intermediates. This review in environmental photocatalysis may inspire exciting new directions and methods for designing, fabricating and evaluating photocatalytic degradation systems for better environmental remediation and possibly other relevant fields, such as photocatalytic disinfection, water oxidation, and selective organic transformations.

Keywords Photocatalytic degradation      Environmental remediation      Charge carrier dynamics      Reactive oxygen species      O2 reduction     
Corresponding Authors: Xin Li,Jiaguo Yu   
Issue Date: 20 September 2018
 Cite this article:   
Xin Li,Jun Xie,Chuanjia Jiang, et al. Review on design and evaluation of environmental photocatalysts[J]. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng., 2018, 12(5): 14.
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Xin Li
Jun Xie
Chuanjia Jiang
Jiaguo Yu
Pengyi Zhang
Fig.1  The number of publications using “photocatal*” and “degrad*” as two topic keywords since 1998. (Adapted from ISI Web of Science Core Collection, date of search: Jul. 7, 2018).
Fig.2  Heterogeneous photodegradation systems for various pollutants.
Fig.3  Schematic of photocatalytic degradation of pollutants over a semiconductor photocatalyst under light irradiation.
Fig.4  Practical requirements for the photocatalysts in environmental remediation.
Fig.5  Band positions and potential applications of typical photocatalysts for environmental remediation (at pH= 7 in aqueous solutions), with highlights on the oxidation abilities and generation of reactive oxygen species (e.g., •OH and •O2- radicals).
Fig.6  (a) Photocatalytic degradation reactions with DG<0 driven by the active oxygen radicals generated by photochemical energy (Chen et al., 2010); (b) Artificial photosynthesis by photocatalytic water splitting with DG>0 (Kudo and Miseki, 2009).
Fig.7  Kinetic processes of photocatalysis.
Fig.8  Semiconductor modification strategies for photocatalytic degradation.
Fig.9  Time-resolved PL spectra of CdS counterpart and Au-CdS nanocrystals with the shell thickness of (a) 14.0 and (b) 18.6 nm; (c) Photocatalytic activity of Au-CdS nanocrystals with different shell thicknesses toward degradation RhB; (d) CdS thickness-dependent electron-transfer rate constant (ket) and rate constant of RhB photodegradation (kRhB) over Au-CdS core-shell nanocrystals (Yang et al., 2010).
Fig.10  Time-resolved PL spectra of RhB in the presence of (a) pure In2O3 nanocrystals, In2O3-TiO2 NBs, and In2O3-TiO2-1.0 wt % Pt NBs, and (b) In2O3-TiO2-Pt NBs with different Pt contents; (c) The corresponding ln(C/C0) vs irradiation time plots with the fitting results included; (d) Pt content-dependent electron-scavenging rate constant (kes) and rate constant of MB photodegradation (kMB) over In2O3-TiO2-Pt NBs (Chen et al., 2012).
Fig.11  (a) Steady-state and (b and c) time-resolved transient photoluminescence spectra of (a in part a, b) g-C3N4 nanosheets and (b in part a, c) 5 wt% SnS2/g-C3N4; (d) Schematic illustration of transfer mechanism of charge carriers in SnS2/g-C3N4 heterojunctions (Zhang et al., 2015c).
Fig.12  Open-circuit photovoltage response of (a) optically transparent electrodes (OTE)/TiO2; (b) OTE/SnO2, and (c) OTE/SnO2/TiO2 (with saturated calomel electrode (SCE) as reference electrode) to UV illumination in 0.02 M NaOH electrolytes saturated with (a) N2 and (b) O2; (d) NBB degradation kinetics over the different semiconductor films at a bias potential of 0.8 V vs SCE (in N2-saturated solutions at unbuffered pH 5) (Vinodgopal et al., 1996).
Fig.13  (a)Transient photovoltage (TPV) signal (l = 355 nm), and (b) visible-light photodegradation kinetics of MB by BiVO4 with different crystalline phases (l>400 nm; initial MB concentration= 10 mg/L) (Fan et al., 2012).
Fig.14  The band positions of CdS and the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO) and the highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) levels of RhB, MO and MB dyes vs. NHE at pH= 0 (Li et al., 2015d).
Fig.15  (a) Comparison of RGO-CNT and P25 TiO2 for photodegradation of RhB under different experimental conditions; (b) Schematic illustration of multi-step electron transfer mechanism for the visible-light photosensitized degradation of RhB over RGO - CNT (Zhang et al., 2010).
Fig.16  (A) Photocatalytic degradation of MB aqueous solution using (a) Ag2CrO4, (b) Ag2MoO4, (c) Ag2WO4, and (d) P25 under visible-light irradiation. Photocatalytic mechanism of (B) Ag2CrO4, Ag2WO4, and (C)Ag2MoO4 (Xu et al., 2015b).
Fig.17  (a,b) Scanning electron microscopy images of the TiO2 films composed of flower-like TiO2 microspheres with exposed (001) facets prepared by hydrothermal treatment of Ti foil at 180°C for 1 h; (c) Schematic illustration for the selective adsorption of pollutants on the TiO2 surface; (d) Photocatalytic degradation activity and selectivity toward different adsorbates of the TiO2 films prepared at 180°C for 1 h before (T1-F) and after NaOH washing (T1-OH) (Xiang et al., 2011).
Fig.18  Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) (a and b) and high-resolution TEM (HRTEM) (c) images of G0.5–TiO2; (d) schematic illustration of graphene-mediated dye adsorption and the interfacial charge separation and transfer; (e) the adsorption behavior of MO (e) and MB (f) dyes on the Gx–TiO2 (x = 0, 0.1, 0.5, 1 and 2) surface (Liu et al., 2012).
Fig.19  Adsorption kinetics of MB on different photocatalysts (C0 = 30 mg/L, V = 200 mL, m = 50mg, t = 25°C, BC and GC represent bamboo charcoal and mesoporous graphene-like carbon nanosheets) (Wu et al., 2015).
Samples qexp
Pseudo-first-order Pseudo-second-order
(min-1, × 10-2)
R2 qe
(× 10-4, g·(mg/min))
P25 5.35 5.317 2.649 0.968 11.40 601 0.44
TiO2 8.72 9.00 4.547 0.979 16.18 102.6 0.88
TiO2-3%GC 17.50 16.68 3.977 0.982 27.38 26.48 0.945
TiO2-6%GC 13.17 18.80 8.77 0.835 28.04 15.49 0.609
TiO2-9%GC 27.26 26.61 4.634 0.990 39.90 4.3 0.996
TiO2-12%GC 9.15 10.86 8.31 0.949 12.62 100 0.952
TiO2-6%BC 33.26 35.41 7.57 0.992 42.48 1.91 0.987
Tab.1  Kinetic model parameters for the adsorption of MB (Wu et al., 2015)
Fig.20  (a) Photodegradation kinetics curves of MB with different amounts of photocatalysts (200 mL of MB solution (30 mg/L), pH= 7, a 300 W Xenon lamp); (b) Effect of solution pH on MB degradation (200 mL of MB solution (30 mg/L), the catalyst amount of photocatalyst: 50 mg, a 300 W Xenon lamp) (Wu et al., 2015).
Fig.21  (a) Increase in SPR-mediated local electromagnetic field in Bi nanospheres with a wavelength of 420 nm; (b) Schematic mechanism of charge separation and photocatalytic NOx purification of Bi spheres/g-C3N4 (Dong et al., 2015b).
Fig.22  (a) TEM image of 1 wt% GO/Ag2CrO4; (b) The comparison of visible-light rate constants for MB degradation over the Gx/Ag2CrO4 samples (x represents the theoretical weight ratios of GO to Ag2CrO4 (x = 0, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2 and 3); (c) Z-scheme charge separation and photocatalytic degradation mechanism for GO/Ag2CrO4 composite photocatalysts (Xu et al., 2015a).
Fig.23  (A) The photocatalytic reaction and charge transfer mechanism of the Ag/Ag2CO3-rGO photocatalyst under visible-light irradiation; (B) Cycling run performance in the photocatalytic oxidation of MO in the presence of Ag2CO3 (a) and Ag/Ag2CO3-rGO (b) (Song et al., 2016).
Fig.24  (A) Photocatalytic phenol degradation ratios over Ag2CO3 and N-CQDs/ Ag2CO3; (B) Phenol degradation ratios over Ag2CO3, 3N-CQDs/Ag2CO3 and 3CQDs/ Ag2CO3. (C) Schematic illustration for enhanced photocatalytic phenol degradation over N-CQDs/Ag2CO3 (Tian et al., 2017).
Fig.25  Oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) polarization plots of polyterthiophene (pTTh)/glassy carbon electrode under 580 nm and 385 nm monochromatic light irradiation with the same light intensity (a) and different light intensities (c). (b, d) Current density histograms for samples in parts (a) and (c) at fixed potentials (Zhang et al., 2016a).
Fig.26  (a) Photodegradation stability test toward NO over the g-C3N4/Al2O3 ceramic foam composite photocatalysts; (b and c) Spin-trapping EPR spectra of immobilized g-C3N4 for (b) DMPO–•O2 (in methanol dispersion) and (c) DMPO–•OH (in aqueous dispersion); (d) Schematic illustration for Lewis acid properties of Al atoms accepting lone electron pair from g-C3N4 (Dong et al., 2014).
Fig.27  (a) The photocatalytic degradation rate constant of HCHO and (b) time-dependent PL intensity at 425 nm for g-C3N4 and g-C3N4/TiO2 composite samples (Ux, where x represents the weight percentage ratio of urea against P25 in the synthesis precursor). (c) Schematic illustration of band levels of g-C3N4 and TiO2 together with OH-/•OH and O2/•O2- redox potentials. (d) Conventional type II heterojunctions between g-C3N4 and TiO2 cannot explain the experimental results (Yu et al., 2013b).
Fig.28  (a) Radical trapping experiments on the photocatalytic activity of 5.0 wt% WO3/g-C3N4 toward degradation of MB and BF (Dosage of scavengers= 0.1 mmol/L; irradiation duration= 60 min). MB and BF denote methylene blue and basic fuchsin, respectively. (b–c) Schematics showing heterojunction and Z-scheme charge separation mechanisms (Chen et al., 2014).
Fig.29  (a) Photocatalytic degradation of RhB (2 × 10-5 mol/L) over g-C3N4, g-C3N4 + ZnTcPc (0.64%), g-C3N4/ZnTcPc (0.64%) and ZnTcPc under visible light irradiation; (b) Radical trapping experiments on visible-light photo-degradation of RhB (2 × 10-5 mol/L) over g-C3N4/ZnTcPc (0.1 g/L, pH 9, l>400 nm); (c) The EPR signal intensity of TEMP (10 mM, pH 9) in aqueous solution with g-C3N4/ZnTcPc under visible light irradiation (l>400 nm); (d) Schematic mechanism diagram of visible-light photodegradation over g-C3N4/ZnTcPc photocatalyst (l>400 nm) (Lu et al., 2016a).
Fig.30  EPR spectra for (A) singlet oxygen generation from nanocomposites without irradiation (a) CuO–SiO2 (b), Fe2O3–SiO2 (c) and ZnO–SiO2 (d) during irradiation (50 mM 4-oxo-TEMP+ 2 mg/mL nanocomposites);(B) electron generation of nanocomposites under illumination in the absence (a) and presence of CuO–SiO2 (b), Fe2O3–SiO2 (c) and ZnO–SiO2 (d) (0.05 mM TEMPO+ 2 mg/mL nanocomposites). (C) Photocatalytic activity of CuO–SiO2, Fe2O3–SiO2 and ZnO–SiO2 on degradation of BPA under irradiation. (D) Band levels of CuO, Fe2O3 and ZnO and the standard redox potentials of singlet oxygen, superoxide, and hydroxyl radical (Zhao et al., 2017).
Fig.31  Proposed photocatalytic degradation pathway of acyclovir (The energy data are given in unit of kcal/mol) (An et al., 2015).
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