Cooperative and Fully Reversible Photocatalytic Colour Switching Activation in Graphene-Copper-TiO2 Nanoparticles

Nanostructured systems showing reversible colour switching are envisaged to play a significant role in photo-switches, photo-optical sensors, smart windows, displays, optical storage memories. Most of the materials exhibiting reversible colour switching are organic compounds. However, their UV-light activation, low thermal and chemical stability, as well as harmful synthesis methods, are of limit for their extensive use. In this research, we have created an inorganic switchable photochromic material exploiting: (i) TiO2 ability of creating an exciton upon excitation, (ii) copper as the chromophore, and (iii) graphene’s extraordinarily high electron mobility. Our material showed itself to be able to work under visible-light, its photochromic property being three times faster than conventional titania based photochromic materials, reaching a stable change in colouration after only 30 mins of visible-light irradiation (versus > 120 min in conventional Cu-TiO2). With the addition of just 1 wt% graphene, the material exhibited a staggeringly stable photochromic switching over repeated cycles. These results relate to the best previously reported values for any form of TiO2-based photochromic material. This is therefore an excellent candidate for smart self-cleaning windows, and other chromic devices and applications.