High-flux Degradation with Deep Mineralization for BPA by PTCDA/PMS system. With Bisphenol A (BPA) as a target pollutant, the catalytic degradation activity of PTCDA/PMS system was investigated. Compared with PTCDA photocatalysis, PTCDA/PMS has the advantage of high-flux degradation. The BPA removal in PTCDA photocatalysis was less than 10%. Interestingly, the coexistence of PMS and PTCDA boosted BPA removal efficiency significantly up to 100%. The highest degradation rate of PTCDA/PMS (0.629 min-1) is 125.8 times that of PTCDA photocatalysis system (Fig. 1a). The PTCDA with different side chains such as alanine has the same phenomenon (Figure S1). A high concentration of 100 ppm BPA was entirely degraded by PTCDA/PMS system in 5 h, far better than the conventional Co3O4/PMS system (~ 50%) (Figure S2).The addition of PMS significantly increased the degradation abilities and 0.3 mM was chosen as the concentration for subsequent work considering the cost (Figure S3). Besides, the PTCDA/PMS system decomposed different organic pollutants rapidly, verifying that PTCDA/PMS was effective for the remediation of wastewater with various recalcitrant organic pollutants (Figure S4). After 5 cycles in batch reactor, ~ 100% of BPA was still removed within 10 min, and the morphology and structure after the reaction remained unchanged (Figure S5), indicating the excellent recirculation of PTCDA. Furthermore, a series of characterization showed that the superb charge transport ability of PTCDA laid a foundation for obtaining high-flux degradation performance (see Figure S24-S26 for detailed analysis).
Mineralization capacity is an important indicator to evaluate AOP. The removal of TOC reached ~ 88% for PTCDA/PMS system. However, the conventional single AOP is considered to be unable to completely oxidize and degrade organic pollutants.28, 29, 30 For comparison, conventional Fenton-like
cocatalysts such as Co3O4, Fe2O3 and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (CNT) were selected to conduct BPA degradation and TOC removal tests (Fig. 1b), where PTCDA/PMS showed an absolute advantage. At a lower PMS dosage of 0.3 mM, Co3O4 and Fe2O3 could only completely degrade ~ 25% and ~ 13% of BPA into CO2 respectively (Figure S7). The adsorption of CNT removed 39% of TOC, but only 5% comes from the activation of PMS (Figure S6). By further increasing the dosage of PMS to 1.0 mM, the mineralization for Co3O4, Fe2O3 and CNT obtained limited improvement (Figure S8), which was still far from that in PTCDA/PMS system. Homogeneous Fenton (Fe2+/H2O2) is widely regarded as a powerful tool for removing organic pollutants, but its mineralization ability is poor. When 20ppm, 50ppm and 100ppm BPA as target pollutants, Fe2+/H2O2 can only mineralize ~ 28%, ~ 30% and ~ 27% respectively. Surprisingly, the PTCDA/PMS system is ~ 88%, ~ 69% and ~ 55%, respectively (Figure S9). Admittedly, homogeneous Fenton can quickly remove the target pollutants, but it cannot completely oxidize and degrade them, making the target pollutants only stay in the intermediate stage. The PTCDA/PMS system obtained high-flux degradation with deep mineralization.
Since visible light accounts for ~ 45% of the total radiant energy of sunlight, a wide-spectrum response is particularly important31. Contributed by the π-π accumulation induced extended conjugated electron cloud, the edge of the intrinsic absorption band of PTCDA covers the entire visible range of 630nm, further calculating the bandgap of 1.97ev, the position of CB and VB is -0.33V and 1.64V, respectively (Figure S10). Expanding the absorption is beneficial to improve the ideal solar energy conversion efficiency since photon absorption is the first step of photocatalysis32, 33. In this regard, PTCDA with a large conjugate that can powerfully capture light is suitable. Moreover, the photogenerated charge on the PTCDA surface can be detected by the steady-state surface photovoltage (SPV) spectrum. The PTCDA produced an obviously positive signal in the 300–700 nm, with a maximum of 163 µV. The wavelength-dependent photocatalytic degradation activity of PTCDA/PMS system closely matches with SPV change trends (Fig. 1c). A positive signal indicates that photogenerated holes are transferred to the irradiated surface to oxidize BPA as the main reactive species.
How to improve the mineralization without significantly increasing the concentration of PMS is a crucial problem for the application of persulfate in the field of water and wastewater treatment34, 35, which can be solved by PTCDA/PMS system. A low concentration of 0.3 mM PMS is added to PTCDA/PMS system, and 58.7mg BPA can be mineralized per millimole of PMS (Table S2). However, this value is 16.7, 8.7 and 3.3 for Co3O4, Fe2O3, and CNT respectively (Fig. 1d). So far, compared with PTCDA photocatalysis and conventional Fenton-like systems, PTCDA/PMS possesses high-flux deep mineralization and efficient use of PMS.
High-flux Degradation Mechanism. Because of the extensive system of conjugate π, PTCDA semiconductor is beneficial to store photogenerated electrons to form electron reservoir. First, a bias voltage was applied to prove that PTCDA could be converted to PTCDA anions to form electronic reservoirs. The PTCDA showed an onset reduction potential of -1.015 V versus ferrocene (Figure S11), which corresponded to the formation of its anion (PTCDA-), while the second onset reduction potential at -1.269 V indicated the transformation from PTCDA- to the dianion state (PTCDA2-). Whether it was PTCDA- or PTCDA2-, such a low potential can reduce PMS. Meanwhile, light excitation could produce PTCDA anion as well36, 37.
The PTCDA anions exhibited a different color from their own that enabled them to be tested by ultraviolet-visible (UV-Vis) light irradiation 38, 39. New absorption bands of PTCDA anion appeared at ~ 668, ~755 and ~ 788 nm under irradiation of λ༞350 nm, and the maximum amount of PTCDA anions was obtained when irradiated with simulated sunlight (Fig. 2a). With the prolongation of the irradiation time, the absorption of PTCDA anions increased sharply (Figure S12a). However, UV-vis absorption of PTCDA anion in PMS solution was relatively weak even for more extended periods of light irradiation (Figure S12b). To give more evidence, the PTCDA anion could be observed by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) since the unpaired electrons on the PTCDA anion. As shown in the illustration in Fig. 2b, a strong resonance with a g = 2.00359 was detected after illumination, and no hyperfine splitting information indicated complete delocalization of unpaired electrons on PTCDA40, 41. In order to quantify the content of PTCDA anions, the EPR signal peak and the standard manganese peak were integrated separately, and the ratio of the two was taken42, 43. After turning off the light, the signal was significantly weakened and stabilized (Figure S13a). With the extension of irradiation, the PTCDA anion signal gradually increased. Turning off the light for 17 min, the PTCDA free radical signal was still stronger than initial dark state (Figure S13b), indicating that PTCDA anion forms a stable electronic reservoir. Surprisingly, PTCDA anions tested in water could almost be reduced to a dark state (Figure S13c-d) due to electrons were captured by abundant electron acceptors (H2O, O2). In the presence of electron acceptors, the electron reservior provided electrons, making the generation and quenching of PTCDA anion a reversible process. As expected, the PTCDA anion in PMS solution is weak (Figure S14). Similar to H2O or O2, the PMS as an electron acceptor takes electrons from the PTCDA anion electron reservior. Besides, Alanine-PTCDA has the same phenomenon (Figure S15-16). The above results strongly proved that PTCDA anion served as an electron reservoir for PMS under wide spectrum excitation, resulting in the activation of PMS and occurrence of Fenton-like reaction. Besides, the order of the degradation rate in different atmospheres was as follow: k2(N2) > k2(Air) > k2(O2), which emphasized the importance of PMS activation by PTCDA anion electron reservoir (Figure S17). The intense adsorption energy between PMS and PTCDA (-87.35kJ/mol) suggested that PTCDA could inhibit the self-decomposition of PMS (Figure S18), which was beneficial to improving the utilization rate of PMS.
Deep mineralization Mechanism. The quench experiment was used to explore the active species in PTCDA/PMS system. The degradation experiments were carried out by NaN3 quenching 1O2, P-BQ quenching ·O2-, TBA quenching ·OH, MeOH quenching ·OH, ·SO42-, and HCOOH quenching h+. After quenching h+, the apparent rate constant decreased significantly (Fig. 3a), indicating that h+ was the main active substance. The h+ played such an important role based on the successful separation of e–h+ by PMS. It can be proved through the composite constant of the average photogenerated charge expressed by open-circuit voltage (OCV) signal and the first-order dynamic model44, 45. The OCV attenuation rate of the PTCDA working electrode was K = 7×10− 5 s-1 in PMS solution after turning off, which was 74% slower than that of K = 27×10− 5 s-1 without PMS. (Fig. 3b. See support information for detailed analysis). The reason is that e- of PTCDA anion was captured by PMS, resulting in the less e–h+ recombination on PTCDA electrode surface, thus obtaining a long life of h+.
As mentioned above, the mineralization of PTCDA/PMS with h+ is much better than that of other Fenton-like systems, which is explained from the perspective of degradation products next. For the conventional Fenton-like system without h+, a high concentration of hydroxyl admixture was captured by high resolution mass spectrometry (LC/MS). Due to the hydroxyl radicals increased into the π electrons of BPA, hardly opened benzene ring for further mineralization46. The possible addition sites of BPA were predicted by Fukui function, which was consistent with the hydroxyl addition products detected by high- resolution LC/MS (Figure S19). On the contrary, small molecular weight substances were detected during the PTCDA/PMS (Fig. 3c), based on which possible degradation pathways can be inferred. h+ produced in photocatalysis can react with organic compounds with thermodynamic control thus avoid the problem of sluggish kinetic. Based on several high-concentration intermediate products detected, a possible degradation process dominated by h+ is speculated. h+ firstly reacts with BPA through charge transfer and produces BPA free radical (C15H16O2·−). Subsequently, C9H11O+ and C6H5O∙ are produced by β scission. C6H5O· is activated to produce small molecular organic compounds which have been widely reported47, 48. C9H11O+ produces C9H10O (M = 134.0732) or/and C9H12O2 (M = 152.0837) through hydrogen transfer and other reactions. C9H10O (M = 134.0732) further forms C8H8O2 (M = 136.0524) through h+ reaction and α scission. The α-positions of the phenolic hydroxyl groups of C8H8O2 (M = 136.0524) and C9H12O2 (M = 152.0837) are active, and γH rearrangement can occur after reaction with h+, which in turn causes α scission, leading to the benzene ring to open. Using DMPO as the trapping agent, EPR detected the six peaks with AN= 14.7 Gauss hyperfine division constant (one of which was covered by the PTCDA anion peak), which belongs to the alkane free radical (R∙) signal. The six-fold peak did not appear without BPA (Figure S20). Although it is impossible to determine the organic molecules of R·, but sufficient to account for the generation of R· in PTCDA/PMS system. The EPR of R· once again proving the rationality of the above speculation process. h+ is positively charged, and their activation sites are atoms with unshared electrons, causing α and β scission, which is a process of rapid carbon reduction mineralization. All organic molecules with hydroxyl functional groups can be converted into small molecules by photogenerated holes in a similar way until mineralization.
So far, as Scheme 1 shows, PTCDA supramolecular generates PTCDA anion electron reservoir under wide spectral excitation. PMS obtains electrons from the electron reservoir to produce ROS (Figure S21), which can form rapidly hydroxyl admixture with BPA and/or incompletely degradation. h+ rapidly mineralize organic molecules containing lone electrons through α and β scission.
Continuous Flow,real water and solar light Purification. Besides batch reactor, continuous flow performance is a key indicator to verify that purification technology is potential for industrial application. The purification effect of PTCDA/PMS was tested in a continuous flow reactor (Fig. 4a), which was illuminated by a 7.0 cm×2.5 cm×1.0 cm quartz window with a light area of 17.5 cm2 (Fig. 4b). Non-woven fabrics fixed PTCDA powder is easy for recovery. With a treatment capacity of 34.3 L h− 1 m− 2, the 10 mg/L BPA was completely purified in 50 h (Fig. 4c left). The mineralization maintained at ~ 80%. In contrast, for PTCDA photocatalysis, the removal of BPA is only ~ 2%. For Co3O4, the removal BPA reached ~ 74% within 1 hour. However, the removal rate was only ~ 25% and the mineralization was stable at ~ 5% after 9 h. Besides, in tap water, Songhua river and secondary sedimentation tank effluent tests with 20 mg/L BPA added, PTCDA/PMS system still obtained considerable degradation activity (Fig. 4c middle & Table S3). Although the xenon lamp used in the above experiment can simulate sunlight (Figure S22), to further demonstrate the industrial application potential of PTCDA/PMS system, degradation performance was tested under solar light. The sunlight intensity on the ground at 116.33° east longitude and 40.0° north latitude in autumn is ~ 60 mW/cm2. PTCDA/PMS can degrade 10 mg/L BPA rapidly in 10 minutes under outdoor natural light exposure (Fig. 4c right & Figure S23). Based on high-flux deep mineralization, high stability and cost considerations, we believe that the PTCDA/PMS configuration should be an ideal oxidation system for the removal and mineralization of organic pollutants with high potential.