Two-photon, visible light water splitting at a molecular ruthenium complex

Jacob Schneidewind, Miguel A. Argüello Cordero, Henrik Junge, Stefan Lochbrunner, Matthias Beller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Water splitting to give molecular oxygen and hydrogen or the corresponding protons and electrons is a fundamental four-electron redox process, which forms the basis of photosynthesis and is a promising approach to convert solar into chemical energy. Artificial water splitting systems have struggled with orchestrating the kinetically complex absorption of four photons as well as the difficult utilization of visible light. Based on a detailed kinetic, spectroscopic and computational study of Milstein's ruthenium complex, we report a new mechanistic paradigm for water splitting, which requires only two photons and offers a new method to extend the range of usable wavelengths far into the visible region. We show that two-photon water splitting is enabled by absorption of the first, shorter wavelength photon, which produces an intermediate capable of absorbing the second, longer wavelength photon (up to 630 nm). The second absorption then causes O-O bond formation and liberation of O2. Theoretical modelling shows that two-photon water splitting can be used to achieve a maximum solar-to-hydrogen efficiency of 18.8%, which could be increased further to 28.6% through photochemical instead of thermal H2 release. It is therefore possible to exceed the maximum efficiency of dual absorber systems while only requiring a single catalyst. Due to the lower kinetic complexity, intrinsic utilization of a wide wavelength range and high-performance potential, we believe that this mechanism will inspire the development of a new class of water splitting systems that go beyond the reaction blueprint of photosynthesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4427-4436
Number of pages10
JournalEnergy and Environmental Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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