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Carbon dots (CDs) are low-cost light-absorbers in photocatalytic multicomponent systems, but their wide size distribution has hampered rational design and the identification of the factors that lead to their best performance. To address this challenge, we report herein the novel use of gel filtration size exclusion chromatography to separate amorphous, graphitic, and graphitic N-doped CDs depending on their lateral size to study the effect of their size on photocatalytic H2 evolution with a DuBois type Ni cocatalyst. Transmission electron microscopy and dynamic light scattering confirm size-dependent separation, while UV-vis and fluorescence spectroscopy of the more monodisperse fractions show a distinct response which computational modelling attributed to a complex interplay between CD size and optical properties. A size-dependent effect on the photocatalytic H2 evolution performance of the CDs in combination with a molecular Ni cocatalyst is demonstrated with a maximum activity at approximately 2-3 nm CD diameter. Overall, size separation leads to a two-fold increase in the specific photocatalytic activity for H2 evolution using the monodisperse CDs compared to the as synthesized polydisperse samples, highlighting the size-dependent effect on photocatalytic activity towards H2 evolution.
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