Understanding the Role of Underlayers and Overlayers in Thin Film Hematite Photoanodes
Recent research on photoanodes for photoelectrochemical water splitting has introduced the concept of under-and overlayers for the activation of ultrathin hematite films. Their effects on the photocatalytic behavior were clearly shown; however, the mechanism is thus far not fully understood. Herein, the contribution of each layer is analyzed by means of electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, with the aim of obtaining a general understanding of surface and interface modifications and their influence on the hematite photoanode performance. This study shows that doping of the hematite from the underlayer and surface passivation from annealing treatments and an overlayer are key parameters to consider for the design of more efficient iron oxide electrodes. Understanding the contribution of these layers, a new design for ultrathin hematite films employing a combination of a gallium oxide overlayer with thin niobium oxide and silicon oxide underlayers is shown to achieve a photocurrent onset potential for the photoelectrochemical oxidation of water more negative than 750 mV versus the reversible hydrogen electrode (RHE) at pH 13.6, utilizing Co-Pi as a water oxidation catalyst. It is demonstrated that multilayer hematite thin film photoanodes are a strategy to reduce the overpotential for this material, thereby facilitating more efficient tandem cells.