Hydrogen Generation by Visible Light Irradiation of Aqueous Solutions of Metal Complexes. An approach to the photochemical conversion and storage of solar energy


  • Communicated in part at the 2nd International Conference on the Photochemical Conversion and Storage of Solar Energy, Cambridge, Great-Britain, August 10--12, 1978; for a preliminary report see [1].

  • E.R.A. No 265 of the C.N.R.S.


We describe a photochemical system for the generation of hydrogen by water reduction under visible light or sunlight irradiation of aqueous solutions containing the following components: a photosensitizer, the Ru (bipy)math image complex, for visible light absorption; a relay species, the Rh (bipy)math image complex, which mediates water reduction by intermediate storage of electrons via a reduced state; an electron donor, triethanolamine (TEOA) which provides the electrons for the reduction process and a redox catalyst, colloïdal platinum, which facilitates hydrogen formation. The conditions for efficient hydrogen production and the influence of the concentration of the components have been investigated; the metal complexes act as catalysts with high turnover numbers; excess bipyridine facilitates the reaction. The process contains two catalytic cycles: a ruthenium cycle and a rhodium cycle. The Ru cycle involves oxidative quenching of the *Ru(bipy)math image excited state by Rh(bipy)math image forming Ru(bipy)math image which is converted back to Ru(bipy)math image by oxidation of the electron donor TEOA, which is thus consumed. The Rh cycle comprises a complicated set of transformations of the initial Rh(bipy)math image complex. The reduced rhodium complex formed in the quenching process undergoes a series of transformations involving the Rh(bipy)math image complex and hydridorhodium-bipyridine species, from which hydrogen is generated by reaction with the protons of water. In view of the storage of two electrons in the reduced rhodium species, the process is formally a dielectronic water reduction. The properties and eventual participation of [Rh(III)(bipy)2LL′]n+(L,L′ = H2O, OH) species are investigated. It is concluded that at neutral pH in presence of excess bipyridine, the cycle involving regeneration of the Rh(bipy)math image complex is predominant. A number of experiments have been performed with modified systems. Hydrogen evolution is observed with other photosensitizers (like proflavin), other relay species (like Rh(dimethylbipy)math image or Co(II)-bipyridine complexes), other donor species, or in absence of the platinum catalyst. It also occurs in absence of photosensitizer by sunlight of UV. irradiation of Rh(bipy)math image or by visible light irradiation of iridium (III)-bibyridine complexes. These systems deserve further investigations. The present photochemical hydrogen generating system represents the reductive component of a complete water splitting process. Its role in solar energy conversion and in photochemical fuel production is discussed.