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  1. The performance of energy materials hinges on the presence of structural defects and heterogeneity over different length scales. Here we map the correlation between morphological and functional heterogeneity in bismuth vanadate, a promising metal oxide photoanode for photoelectrochemical water splitting, by photoconductive atomic force microscopy. We demonstrate that contrast in mapping electrical conductance depends on charge transport limitations, and on the contact at the sample/probe interface. Using temperature and illumination intensity-dependent current–voltage spectroscopy, we find that the transport mechanism in bismuth vanadate can be attributed to space charge-limited current in the presence of trap states. We observe no additional recombinationmore » sites at grain boundaries, which indicates high defect tolerance in bismuth vanadate. These findings support the fabrication of highly efficient bismuth vanadate nanostructures and provide insights into how local functionality affects the macroscopic performance.« less
  2. Understanding the interplay between surface chemistry, electronic structure, and reaction mechanism of the catalyst at the electrified solid/liquid interface will enable the design of more efficient materials systems for sustainable energy production. The substantial progress in operando characterization, particularly using synchrotron based X-ray spectroscopies, provides the unprecedented opportunity to uncover surface chemical and structural transformations under various (electro)chemical reaction environments. In this work, we study a polycrystalline platinum surface under oxygen evolution conditions in an alkaline electrolyte by means of ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy performed at the electrified solid/liquid interface. We elucidate previously inaccessible aspects of the surface chemistrymore » and structure as a function of the applied potential, allowing us to propose a reaction mechanism for oxygen evolution on a platinum electrode in alkaline solutions.« less
  3. Chemical transformations that occur on photoactive materials, such as photoelectrochemical water splitting, are strongly influenced by the surface properties as well as by the surrounding environment. Herein, we elucidate the effects of oxygen and water surface adsorption on band alignment, interfacial charge transfer, and charge-carrier transport by using complementary Kelvin probe measurements and photoconductive atomic force microscopy on bismuth vanadate. By observing variations in surface potential, we show that adsorbed oxygen acts as an electron-trap state at the surface of bismuth vanadate, whereas adsorbed water results in formation of a dipole layer without inducing interfacial charge transfer. The apparent changemore » of trap state density under dry or humid nitrogen, as well as under oxygen-rich atmosphere, proves that surface adsorbates influence charge-carrier transport properties in the material. The finding that oxygen introduces electronically active states on the surface of bismuth vanadate may have important implications for understanding functional characteristics of water splitting photoanodes, devising strategies to passivate interfacial trap states, and elucidating important couplings between energetics and charge transport in reaction environments.« less
  4. We present that the operando quantification of surface and bulk losses is key to developing strategies for optimizing photoelectrodes and realizing high efficiency photoelectrochemical solar energy conversion systems. This is particularly true for emerging thin film semiconductors, in which photocarrier diffusion lengths, surface and bulk recombination processes, and charge separation and extraction limitations are poorly understood. Insights into mechanisms of efficiency loss can guide strategies for nanostructuring photoelectrodes, engineering interfaces, and incorporating catalysts. However, few experimental methods are available for direct characterization of dominant loss processes under photoelectrochemical operating conditions. In this work, we provide insight into the function andmore » limitations of an emerging semiconductor photoanode, γ-Cu 3V 2O 8, by quantifying the spatial collection efficiency (SCE), which is defined as the fraction of photogenerated charge carriers at each point below the surface that contributes to the measured current. Analyzing SCE profiles at different operating potentials shows that increasing the applied potential primarily acts to reduce surface recombination rather than to increase the thickness of the space charge region under the semiconductor/electrolyte interface. Comparing SCE profiles obtained with and without a sacrificial reagent allows surface losses from electronically active defect states to be distinguished from performance bottlenecks arising from slow reaction kinetics. Combining these insights promotes a complete understanding of the photoanode performance and its potential as a water splitting photoanode. More generally, application of the SCE extraction method can aid in the discovery and evaluation of new materials for solar water splitting devices by providing mechanistic details underlying photocurrent generation and loss.« less
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