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Towards High Solar to Fuel Efficiency: From Photonic Design, Interface Study, to Device Integration


Cheng, Wen-Hui (Sophia) (2020) Towards High Solar to Fuel Efficiency: From Photonic Design, Interface Study, to Device Integration. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/kd6a-xt88.


Efficient unassisted solar fuel generation, a pathway to storable renewable energy in the form of chemical bonds, requires optimization of a photoelectrochemical device based on photonic design and interface study. We first focused on enhancing absorption via nanophotonic design of light absorbers. Near-unity, broadband absorption in sparse InP nanowire arrays with multi-radii and tapered nanowire array designs are simulated and experimentally demonstrated. Later, a few strategies are introduced to achieved high solar-to-fuel efficiency.

Optically, photoelectrochemical device would require the catalyst ensembles to be highly transparent. We report a record solar-to-hydrogen efficiency by integrating Rh nanoparticle catalysts onto photocathodes with minimal parasitic absorption and reflection losses in the visible range. The other two light management strategies have been developed and experimentally verified to create highly active and effectively transparent catalyst structures: i) arrays of mesophotonic dielectric cone structures that serve as tapered waveguide light couplers to efficiently guide incident light through apertures in an opaque catalyst into the light absorber, and ii) an effectively transparent catalyst consisting of arrays of micron-scale triangular cross-sectional metal grid fingers, which are capable of redirecting the incoming light to the open areas of the PEC cell without shadow loss.

The electronic properties of the surface films exposed to the electrolyte are also critical. The anatase TiO₂ protection layer on the photocathode creates a favorable internal band alignment for hydrogen evolution, promoting the transport of the excess electrons and inhibiting voltage drops. The interfacial conduction mechanism between the defected TiO₂ and metal catalysts is investigated. A combinatorial approach of electrochemistry, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and resonant X-ray spectroscopy reveals the correlation between the interfacial quasi-metal phase with TiO₂ properties. By careful control of gas diffusion electrode assembling to maintain appropriate wetted catalyst interface, another record solar-to-CO efficiency with extended stability can be realized.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Photoelectrochemistry, Nanophotonics, Solar fuels, Water splitting, CO2 reduction, Surface analysis
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Materials Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Thesis Committee:
  • Goddard, William A., III (chair)
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
  • Johnson, William Lewis
  • Houle, Frances A.
Defense Date:20 April 2020
Non-Caltech Author Email:sophiasophia0701 (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-SC0004993
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05282020-183139057
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2. adapted for Chapter 3. adapted for Chapter 4. adapted for Chapter 5.
Cheng, Wen-Hui (Sophia)0000-0003-3233-4606
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13731
Deposited By: Wen Hui Cheng
Deposited On:01 Jun 2020 22:29
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 18:46

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