Solar energy conversion and storage into hydrogen is a valuable approach to capture the energy that is freely available from sunlight and to turn it into a clean fuel. Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting through the dual-absorber tandem cell technology has emerged as a promising strategy to this aim. The work conducted in the frame of this PhD thesis aimed at playing a part in the development and optimization of efficient oxide-based semiconductor photoanodes for water oxidation, which is the kinetic bottleneck of the overall PEC water splitting process. Photoanodes based on films of absorbing materials were successfully synthesized with a high optical transparency as important requirement for maximizing the solar energy conversion efficiency of the final tandem cell device. Subsequently, their intrinsic properties as single photoabsorber photoanodes were largely improved, on the basis of the results obtained through comprehensive PEC studies in parallel with thorough structural, morphological, and spectroscopic investigations. The attention was focused on three different classes of promising ternary metal oxides, able to absorb a large portion of the solar spectrum, namely i) BiVO4 (bandgap Eg = 2.4 eV), known for its excellent solar light to hydrogen conversion efficiency, ii) the copper tungstate-based materials CuWO4 (Eg = 2.3 eV) and CuW(1-x)Mo(x)O4 (Eg = 2.0 eV), ideal to be employed as visible-light active alternative to WO3, and iii) ZnFe2O4 (Eg = 2.0 eV) belonging to the spinel ferrites class, possessing excellent photothermal and chemical stability. Specifically, BiVO4 was studied either as a visible light sensitizer towards TiO2 or as a single photoanode material to focus on the identification and improvement of its intrinsically poor electron transport and interfacial transfer properties. In the first case, the TiO2/BiVO4 heterojunction system was proved to be effective in producing highly reductive electrons, suitable for overall water splitting, through TiO2 sensitization towards visible light. This, together with the counterintuitive mechanism at the basis of the observed impressive functionality, was effectively disclosed through combined PEC and photocatalytic reduction test studies. The multifaceted role of Mo6+ doping onto both the bulk and surface properties of BiVO4 films was also revealed through an in-depth PEC and impedance spectroscopy study. By improving either the bulk conductivity or the interfacial charge transfer of optimized Mo6+ doped BiVO4 photoanodes a conspicuous enhancement was attained of their photoactivity towards water oxidation with respect to the pure material. The presence of intra-gap states in CuWO4, acting as electron traps and thus being responsible for a severe internal charge recombination, was verified by means of the first ultrafast transient absorption study performed with this material, in combination with both an electrochemical and a photochromic characterization. This issue, which strongly limits the PEC performance of CuWO4 photoanodes, was addressed by adopting a 50% Mo for W substitution resulting in CuW0.5Mo0.5O4 photoanodes, exhibiting not only a greatly extended visible light-induced photoactivity compared to the pure material, as a result of enhanced absorption, but also a considerably improved charge separation. All these factors contributed to the much better PEC performance attained with respect to CuWO4 electrodes. This study was finalized by the identification of a suitable hole scavenger species for copper tungstate-based materials, able to ensure enhanced photocurrent generation compared to pure water oxidation while minimizing dark currents. Finally, in the frame of my seven months stage in Prof. Sivula’s group at the EPFL in Lausanne, a thorough study was performed on the impact that several parameters, such as the annealing temperature, the film thickness and the creation of oxygen vacancies through a reductive treatment in hydrogen atmosphere, have on the PEC performance of ZnFe2O4 photoanodes. The verified synergism between the higher crystallinity of the films subjected to a high-temperature annealing treatment and the hydrogenation efficiency, which proved effective in optimizing charge separation in the thicker photoactive layers, allowed one to maximize the performance of ZnFe2O4 electrodes for water oxidation. This study also shed light onto the strict correlation occurring between structural parameters, i.e. the film crystallinity and the spinel inversion degree, and the resulting PEC performance, which proved to be in turn controlled by the film morphology.

TERNARY OXIDE SEMICONDUCTOR PHOTOANODES FOR SOLAR ENERGY CONVERSION / A. Polo ; tutor: M. V. Dozzi ; co-tutor: E. Selli ; coordinatore: E. Licandro. Dipartimento di Chimica, 2021 Mar 24. 33. ciclo, Anno Accademico 2020. [10.13130/polo-annalisa_phd2021-03-24].

TERNARY OXIDE SEMICONDUCTOR PHOTOANODES FOR SOLAR ENERGY CONVERSION

A. Polo
2021

Abstract

Solar energy conversion and storage into hydrogen is a valuable approach to capture the energy that is freely available from sunlight and to turn it into a clean fuel. Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting through the dual-absorber tandem cell technology has emerged as a promising strategy to this aim. The work conducted in the frame of this PhD thesis aimed at playing a part in the development and optimization of efficient oxide-based semiconductor photoanodes for water oxidation, which is the kinetic bottleneck of the overall PEC water splitting process. Photoanodes based on films of absorbing materials were successfully synthesized with a high optical transparency as important requirement for maximizing the solar energy conversion efficiency of the final tandem cell device. Subsequently, their intrinsic properties as single photoabsorber photoanodes were largely improved, on the basis of the results obtained through comprehensive PEC studies in parallel with thorough structural, morphological, and spectroscopic investigations. The attention was focused on three different classes of promising ternary metal oxides, able to absorb a large portion of the solar spectrum, namely i) BiVO4 (bandgap Eg = 2.4 eV), known for its excellent solar light to hydrogen conversion efficiency, ii) the copper tungstate-based materials CuWO4 (Eg = 2.3 eV) and CuW(1-x)Mo(x)O4 (Eg = 2.0 eV), ideal to be employed as visible-light active alternative to WO3, and iii) ZnFe2O4 (Eg = 2.0 eV) belonging to the spinel ferrites class, possessing excellent photothermal and chemical stability. Specifically, BiVO4 was studied either as a visible light sensitizer towards TiO2 or as a single photoanode material to focus on the identification and improvement of its intrinsically poor electron transport and interfacial transfer properties. In the first case, the TiO2/BiVO4 heterojunction system was proved to be effective in producing highly reductive electrons, suitable for overall water splitting, through TiO2 sensitization towards visible light. This, together with the counterintuitive mechanism at the basis of the observed impressive functionality, was effectively disclosed through combined PEC and photocatalytic reduction test studies. The multifaceted role of Mo6+ doping onto both the bulk and surface properties of BiVO4 films was also revealed through an in-depth PEC and impedance spectroscopy study. By improving either the bulk conductivity or the interfacial charge transfer of optimized Mo6+ doped BiVO4 photoanodes a conspicuous enhancement was attained of their photoactivity towards water oxidation with respect to the pure material. The presence of intra-gap states in CuWO4, acting as electron traps and thus being responsible for a severe internal charge recombination, was verified by means of the first ultrafast transient absorption study performed with this material, in combination with both an electrochemical and a photochromic characterization. This issue, which strongly limits the PEC performance of CuWO4 photoanodes, was addressed by adopting a 50% Mo for W substitution resulting in CuW0.5Mo0.5O4 photoanodes, exhibiting not only a greatly extended visible light-induced photoactivity compared to the pure material, as a result of enhanced absorption, but also a considerably improved charge separation. All these factors contributed to the much better PEC performance attained with respect to CuWO4 electrodes. This study was finalized by the identification of a suitable hole scavenger species for copper tungstate-based materials, able to ensure enhanced photocurrent generation compared to pure water oxidation while minimizing dark currents. Finally, in the frame of my seven months stage in Prof. Sivula’s group at the EPFL in Lausanne, a thorough study was performed on the impact that several parameters, such as the annealing temperature, the film thickness and the creation of oxygen vacancies through a reductive treatment in hydrogen atmosphere, have on the PEC performance of ZnFe2O4 photoanodes. The verified synergism between the higher crystallinity of the films subjected to a high-temperature annealing treatment and the hydrogenation efficiency, which proved effective in optimizing charge separation in the thicker photoactive layers, allowed one to maximize the performance of ZnFe2O4 electrodes for water oxidation. This study also shed light onto the strict correlation occurring between structural parameters, i.e. the film crystallinity and the spinel inversion degree, and the resulting PEC performance, which proved to be in turn controlled by the film morphology.
24-mar-2021
Settore CHIM/02 - Chimica Fisica
photoelectrochemistry; photoelectrocatalysis; solar energy conversion; water splitting; photoanodes; metal oxides; BiVO4; CuWO4; ZnFe2O4; doping; bulk charge transport; surface states
DOZZI, MARIA VITTORIA
LICANDRO, EMANUELA
Doctoral Thesis
TERNARY OXIDE SEMICONDUCTOR PHOTOANODES FOR SOLAR ENERGY CONVERSION / A. Polo ; tutor: M. V. Dozzi ; co-tutor: E. Selli ; coordinatore: E. Licandro. Dipartimento di Chimica, 2021 Mar 24. 33. ciclo, Anno Accademico 2020. [10.13130/polo-annalisa_phd2021-03-24].
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/2434/827287
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