Preparation and performance of nanostructured iron oxide thin films for solar hydrogen generation
2011-02-24T12:19:58Z (GMT) by
Nowadays, energy and its resources are of prime importance at the global level. During the last few decades there have been several driving forces for the investigation of new sources of energy. Hydrogen has long been identified as one of the most promising carriers of energy. Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting is one of the most promising means of producing hydrogen through a renewable source. Hematite (α-Fe2O3) is a strong candidate material as photoelectrode for PEC water splitting as it fulfils most of the selection criteria of a suitable photocatalyst material for hydrogen generation such as bandgap, chemical and photelectrochemical stability, and importantly ease of fabrication. This work has explored different preparation techniques for undoped and Si-doped iron oxide thin films using microwave-assisted and conventional preparation methods. Two distinct strategies towards improving PEC performance of hematite photoelectrodes were examined: retaining a finer nanostructure and enhancing the photocatalytic behaviour through doping. By depositing thin films using atmospheric pressure chemical vapour deposition (APCVD) and aerosol-assisted CVD (AACVD) at high temperature, it was shown that a combination of different factors (such as silicon incorporation into the hematite structure and formation of lattice defects, along with a nanostructure of small agglomerate/cluster enhancing hole transportation to the surface) were the contributing factors in improving the PEC performance in hematite films. The role of the Si-containing precursors and their consecutive effect on nanostructure of the hematite films were investigated. Further work is needed to study the decomposition pattern of precursors and consequent effects of Si additives as well as co-dopants on fundamental physical and electrical properties of hematite electrodes. In addition, the feasibility of using microwave annealing for the fabrication of iron oxide thin films prepared by electrodeposition at low temperature was also investigated. Hematite films showed improved PEC performance when microwave assisted annealing was used. Microwave heating decreased the annealing temperature by ~40% while the PEC performance was increased by two-fold. The improved performance is attributed to the lower processing temperatures and rapidity of the microwave method that help to retain the nanostructure of the thin films whilst restricting the grain coalescence to a minimum. Around 60% of the energy can be saved using this low carbon foot-print approach compared to conventional annealing procedures for the lab-scale preparation of hematite films – a trait that will have significant implications for scale-up production. The lower processing temperature requirements of the microwave process can also open up the possibility of fabricating hematite thin films on conducting, flexible, plastic electronic substrates.