Benzaldehyde-Promoted (Auto)Photocatalysis under Visible Light: Pitfalls and Opportunities in Photocatalytic H2O2 Production


Selective photooxidation of aromatic alcohols to corresponding aldehydes is a widely used model reaction for evaluation of performance of heterogeneous photocatalysts. A chief example is the photocatalytic production of hydrogen peroxide via reduction of dioxygen with concomitant photooxidation of benzyl alcohol to benzaldehyde. Although it has long been known that photoexcitation of benzaldehyde under UV light yields reactive benzaldehyde radicals capable of oxidizing substrates such as benzyl alcohol, it was assumed that such autocatalytic processes cannot be initiated under visible light irradiation. Herein we demonstrate the ability of benzaldehyde to promote auto-photocatalytic oxidation of benzyl alcohol and produce large quantities of H2O2 in solvent-free (no water) or biphasic (with water) systems even under nominally solar-simulated visible light (>420 nm cutoff filter) irradiation. While these results open up broader prospects for the use of benzaldehyde in visible light-driven photocatalysis as exemplified by the ability of benzaldehyde to photocatalyze H2O2 production even in the presence of alternative electron donors (e.g., ethanol), they also shed some critical light on the plethora of research reports on photocatalytic H2O2 production in which benzyl alcohol was employed as electron donor. Since the autocatalytic pathway based on the photocatalytic activity of benzaldehyde formed during photocatalysis under such conditions cannot be neglected, the interpretations of photocatalytic performance are likely contentious and distorted in such reports. We conclude that the use of benzyl alcohol as a model electron donor in photocatalytic studies should be definitely discouraged, and highlight the importance of carrying out simple check protocols for excluding similar issues when using alternative substrates.