Environmental pollution from human and industrial activities has received much attention as it adversely affects human health and bio-diversity. In this work we report efficient visible light photocatalytic degradation of phenol using supported zinc oxide (ZnO) nanorods and explore the role of surface defects in ZnO on the visible light photocatalytic activity. ZnO nanorods were synthesized on glass substrates using a microwave-assisted hydrothermal process, while the surface defect states were controlled by annealing the nanorods at various temperatures and were characterized by photoluminescence and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was used for the evaluation of phenol photocatalytic degradation. ZnO nanorods with high surface defects exhibited maximum visible light photocatalytic activity, showing 50% degradation of 10 ppm phenol aqueous solution within 2.5 h, with a degradation rate almost four times higher than that of nanorods with lower surface defects. The mineralization process of phenol during degradation was also investigated, and it showed the evolution of different photocatalytic byproducts, such as benzoquinone, catechol, resorcinol and carboxylic acids, at different stages. The results from this study suggest that the presence of surface defects in ZnO nanorods is crucial for its efficient visible light photocatalytic activity, which is otherwise only active in the ultraviolet region.
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