Brazilian researchers have created a new two-dimensional material with enhanced photocatalytic properties which could revolutionise solar fuel generation.

Following the isolation of graphene in 2004, researchers have aimed to synthesize new 2D materials which will play key roles in the development of nanotechnology and nanoengineering.

A group of researchers, including Brazilian scientists affiliated with the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), have succeeded in producing a new 2D material they call hematene from the naturally occurring iron ore hematite. By subjecting the ore to a process called liquid-phase exfoliation, the team created sheets just three iron and oxygen atoms thick.

The researchers then studied the properties of the material, to see how those of its 2D form differed from the regular 3D stuff. Hematene was found to be ferromagnetic, as opposed to the antiferromagnetic nature of hematite. It was also shown to have the potential to be a good photocatalyst, able to use sunlight to speed up chemical reactions.

“The material we synthesized can act as a photocatalyst to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, so that electricity can be generated from hydrogen, among several other potential applications,” said Douglas Soares Galvão, one of the authors of the study, Professor at the University of Campinas’s Physics Institute (IF-UNICAMP) in São Paulo State and co-principal investigator at the Center for Computational Engineering and Sciences (CCES), one of the 17 Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) supported by FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation.

“It could also serve as an ultrathin magnetic material for spintronic-based devices.” Spintronics (or magnetoelectronics) is a new technology used to store, display and process information based on changes brought about by an electron’s spin, which is directly coupled to its magnetic moment.

The CCES brings together highly qualified scientists from the fields of Biology, Computer Science, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Mechanical Engineering, with a unifying scientific focus in the field of computational modeling and high-performance computing. It also expects to address and solve a variety of problems at the forefront of science, including nanomaterials.

Brazil has the second most iron ore reserves in the world behind Australia, and now the São Paulo team says that other iron oxides and related materials could get the 2D treatment in future, leading to a whole range of new materials with different properties.

“There are a number of other iron oxides and derivatives thereof that are candidates for originating new 2-D materials,” Galvão said.


(via New Atlas, FAPESP,


Featured image: Researchers in Brazil  have created a new two dimensional version of hematite (Credit: sulla55 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))