A Ga2O3 underlayer as an isomorphic template for ultrathin hematite films toward efficient photoelectrochemical water splitting
Hematite photoanodes for photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting are often fabricated as extremely-thin films to minimize charge recombination because of the short diffusion lengths of photoexcited carriers. However, poor crystallinity caused by structural interaction with a substrate negates the potential of ultrathin hematite photoanodes. This study demonstrates that ultrathin Ga2O3 underlayers, which were deposited on conducting substrates prior to hematite layers by atomic layer deposition, served as an isomorphic (corundum-type) structural template for ultrathin hematite and improved the photocurrent onset of PEC water splitting by 0.2 V. The benefit from Ga2O3 underlayers was most pronounced when the thickness of the underlayer was approximately 2 nm. Thinner underlayers did not work effectively as a template presumably because of insufficient crystallinity of the underlayer, while thicker ones diminished the PEC performance of hematite because the underlayer prevented electron injection from hematite to a conductive substrate due to the large conduction band offset. The enhancement of PEC performance by a Ga2O3 underlayer was more significant for thinner hematite layers owing to greater margins for improving the crystallinity of ultrathin hematite. It was confirmed that a Ga2O3 underlayer was applicable to a rough conducting substrate loaded with Sb-doped SnO2 nanoparticles, improving the photocurrent by a factor of 1.4. Accordingly, a Ga2O3 underlayer could push forward the development of host-guest-type nanocomposites consisting of highly-rough substrates and extremely-thin hematite absorbers.