Similar to a process in natural photosynthesis, sunlight can also be used in “artificial leafs” to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Artificial leafs combine photoactive semiconducting materials and can reach efficiencies beyond 15 %. However, those record efficiencies were obtained using expensive systems, which also tend to decompose in aqueous solutions. For successful commercialization costs need to go down and stability needs to increase.
Complex metal oxide semiconductors are good candidates for artificial leafs since they are relatively cheap and stable in aqueous solutions. Scientists from HZB-Institute for Solar Fuels focus their research on these materials. Until now, photoelectrodes based on metal oxides have shown moderate efficiencies (only
Heat treatment with hydrogen
One option to overcome this limitation is a heat treatment under hydrogen atmosphere of the metal oxide layers after deposition. Fatwa Abdi and his colleagues have now investigated how this treatment influences life spans, transport properties and defects in one of the most promising metal oxide photoelectrodes, bismuth vanadate (BiVO4).
Life spans of charge carriers doubled
Time-resolved conductivity measurements revealed that electrons and holes live more than twice as long in the bulk of the hydrogen-treated BiVO4 as compared to the pristine BiVO4. As a result, the overall photocurrent under sunlight is largely improved. Further measurements at Dresden and theoretical calculations by KAUST-colleagues in Saudi Arabia provided evidence that the presence of hydrogen in the metal oxide reduces or deactivates point defects in the bulk of BiVO4. “Our results show that hydrogen treatment leads to less traps for charge carriers and less opportunities to recombine or getting lost. So more charge carriers survive for longer and may contribute to water splitting”, Abdi explains.
Contacts and sources:
Fatwa Firdaus Abdi
Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin Für Materialien und Energie
Ji-Wook Jang, Dennis Friedrich, Sönke Müller, Marlene Lamers, Hannes Hempel, Sheikha Lardhi, Zhen Cao, Moussab Harb, Luigi Cavallo, René Heller, Rainer Eichberger, Roel van de Krol, and Fatwa F. Abdi*
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