Environ Sci Ecotechnol. 2023 Jul 26;17:100308. doi: 10.1016/j.ese.2023.100308. eCollection 2024 Jan.
Sulfamethoxazole (SMX) is a significant environmental concern due to its adverse effects and ecological risks. SMX elimination in aquatic environments via photocatalysis presents a viable solution, given its high oxidation potential. However, such a solution remains controversial, primarily due to a lack of selectivity. Here we introduce a molecularly imprinted TiO2@Fe2O3@g-C3N4 (MFTC) photocatalyst designed for the selective degradation of SMX. To assess MFTC’s selectivity, we applied it to degrade synthetic wastewater containing SMX alongside interfering species sulfadiazine (SDZ), ibuprofen (IBU), and bisphenol A (BPA). The results demonstrated a selective degradation efficiency rate of 96.8%, nearly twice that of competing pollutants. The molecularly imprinted sites within the catalyst played a crucial role by selectively capturing SMX and enhancing its adsorption, thereby improving catalytic efficiency. The degradation process involved •OH and •O2- free radicals, with a newly proposed double Z-scheme mechanism and potential pathway for SMX degradation by the MFTC photocatalytic system. This study enriches the application of photocatalysis using molecularly imprinted nanocomposite materials for treating complex pollutant mixtures in water.