Rational Management of Photons for Enhanced Photocatalysis in Structurally-Colored Nanoporous Anodic Alumina Photonic Crystals

A comprehensive study on the engineering of titanium dioxide-functionalized nanoporous anodic alumina distributed Bragg reflectors (TiO2–NAA-DBRs) for photocatalysis enhanced by the “slow photon” effect is presented. The photocatalytic performance of these composite photonic crystals (PCs) is assessed by monitoring photodegradation of a variety of organic molecules with absorbance bands across the spectral regions. This study demonstrates that photocatalytic performance of TiO2–NAA-DBRs is enhanced by the “slow photon” effect when the edges of the PC’s photonic stopband (PSB) fall within the absorbance band of the organic molecules. The photocatalytic performance is significantly enhanced when the PSB’s red edge is in close proximity to the absorbance band of the organic molecules. Overall photocatalytic degradation is also dependent on the total pore length of the PC structure, charge of the organic molecules, percentage of vis–near-IR irradiation, and matrix complexity (i.e., interfering ions and molecules) when the PC’s PSB is partially or entirely misaligned with respect to the absorbance band of the organic molecules. Finally, the real-life application of TiO2–NAA-DBRs to degrade pollutants such as pesticides in environmental matrices is demonstrated. This study provides new insights into the development of rationally engineered, high-performing, safe, and reusable photocatalyst systems.