Photoelectrochemical Properties of (In,Ga)N Nanowires for Water Splitting Investigated by in Situ Electrochemical Mass Spectroscopy

Hydrogen is a clean, storable energy carrier. However, nowadays most hydrogen is produced from fossil resources under emission of CO2. From an environmental point of view, the most attractive method to produce hydrogen is the direct conversion of water into hydrogen and oxygen employing sunlight, that is, solar water splitting. The key to this process is the development of suitable semiconductor photoelectrodes that absorb sunlight to provide charge carriers of appropriate energy and are chemically stable. The effect was first demonstrated in the early 1970s by Fujishima and Honda using a TiO2 photoelectrode. TiO2 is chemically stable but only absorbs ultraviolet light, and hence the efficiency of the solar energy conversion is poor. As an attractive alternative photoelectrode material we investigate (In,Ga)N nanowires and their photoelectrochemical properties.

Figure1: Formation of H2 bubbles at p-(In,Ga)N NW photoelectrode under illumination.

(In,Ga)N alloys, which have been developed for light-emitting and laser diodes, are very promising materials for solar water splitting due to their large absorption coefficient and the possibility to tune the bandgap energy across the entire solar spectrum. However, it is difficult to grow (In,Ga)N bulk layers in high structural quality because of the lack of lattice-matched substrates. In contrast, nanowires (NWs) are known to accommodate lattice mismatch by lateral elastic relaxation without the formation of defects. Moreover, the NW geometry has many other advantages for solar water splitting such as enhanced light absorption, high surface area for electrochemical reactions, and improved carrier collection efficiency.

Our NWs were prepared by plasma-assisted molecular beam epitaxy on Si substrates without any catalyst. Samples were analyzed by electrochemical mass spectroscopy (EMS), which is a combination of a photoelectrochemical cell with a quadrupole mass spectrometer. This technique allows the real-time detection of volatile products like H2, N2 and O2 generated from (In,Ga)N NW electrodes during current-voltage measurements in an electrolyte. We found that n-(In,Ga)N NWs are prone to suffer from photocorrosion, while p-(In,Ga)N NWs showed a cathodic photocurrent under illumination which was correlated with the evolution of H2 as desired. Typically, semiconductor photoelectrodes are modified by electrocatalysts to overcome kinetic limitations of the electrochemical reaction. Indeed, after photodeposition of Pt on p-type NWs the photocurrent density was significantly enhanced to 5 mA/cm2 at a potential of -0.5 V/NHE under visible light irradiation of ~40 mW/cm2. Fig. 1 shows an exemplary photograph of the formation of H2 bubbles on the NWs. In further experiments, we measured incident-photon-to-current conversion efficiencies of around 40% at -0.45 V/NHE across the entire visible spectral region. Moreover, we verified by EMS the stability of the NW photocathodes for at least 60 min. In conclusion, we demonstrated stable hydrogen evolution using p-(In,Ga)N NW photocathodes, which paves the way for the development of a new class of photoelectrodes.

This work was carried out in collaboration with the Institute for Solar Fuels at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.


1 Author J. Kamimura , P. Bogdanoff , J. Lähnemann , C. Hauswald , L. Geelhaar , S. Fiechter , H. Riechert

Photoelectrochemical properties of (In,Ga)N nanowires for water splitting investigated by in situ electrochemical mass spectroscopy

Source J. Am. Chem. Soc. , 135 , 10242 ( 2013 )
2415 Cite : Bibtex RIS
J. Kamimura, P. Bogdanoff, J. Lähnemann, C. Hauswald, L. Geelhaar, S. Fiechter, and H. Riechert