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Stability of Photo-Electrochemical Interface for Solar Fuels


Yu, Weilai (2021) Stability of Photo-Electrochemical Interface for Solar Fuels. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/2z16-d005.


Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting is a promising approach to convert renewable solar energy to clean hydrogen (H2) fuels in one simple step. Although Ⅲ-Ⅴ semiconductors are attractive candidates as light-absorbers in tandem solar-fuel devices, their long-term stability for the hydrogen-evolution reaction (HER) in either acidic or alkaline aqueous electrolytes needs to be established. Chapter 2-5 of this thesis first aims at revealing the underlying corrosion chemistry for a variety of Ⅲ-Ⅴ semiconductors specifically under the HER conditions, offering a rational understanding towards the stability of semiconductor photoelectrode.

In Chapter 2, we start from p-InP and reveal its susceptibility to cathodic photocorrosion forming metallic In0, which however can be completely mitigated by the presence of Pt catalyst due to kinetic stabilization. We also show that the resulting PEC performance of p-InP/Pt electrodes is sensitive to the changes in surface stoichiometry, whereas an InOx-rich surface developed in KOH caused a substantial degradation in the current density-potential (J-E) behavior. In Chapter 3, we discovered that a non-stoichiometric and As0-rich surface of p-GaAs, resulting from a galvanic corrosion by Pt, led to mid-gap surface states as well as a complete loss in photoactivity. In Chapter 4-5, we demonstrate similar kinetic stabilization applied to both p-InGaP2/Pt and pn+-InGaP2/Pt photocathodes for the HER at both pH 0 and pH 14. Additionally, we found that the corrosion of underlying GaAs substrates for the pn+-InGaP2/Pt photocathodes at positive potentials caused damage of structural integrity as well as instability in electrode performance. Altogether these works underscore the mutual dependence of the physical and electrochemical stability of semiconductor photoelectrodes during the HER, which also need to be considered separately. Moreover, both catalytic kinetics and surface stoichiometry are crucial factors for defining long-term corrosion chemistry for semiconductor photoelectrode.

In Chapter 6-7, we further explore solar fuels beyond H2, namely electrochemical N2-to-NH3 conversion. We first establish a new analytical method to isotopically quantify the concentrations of 15NH3 in aqueous solutions with a high sensitivity and a low limit-of-detection of <1 μM. Further we applied this advanced method to rigorously verify the electrocatalytic activity of a CoMo electrode for reducing N2(g) to NH3. We show that the additional ammonia detected in electrolyte was instead attributed to the corrosion of N impurities present in the CoMo electrode under cathodic bias, thus giving false positive results. These works emphasize the importance of both rigorous product analysis and experiment design in further catalyst development.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Solar fuels; Photoelectrochemistry; Stability; Semiconductor; Hydrogen evolution; Corrosion; Interface; Ammonia production
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Major Option:Chemistry
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Lewis, Nathan Saul
Group:Resnick Sustainability Institute, Kavli Nanoscience Institute, JCAP
Thesis Committee:
  • Gray, Harry B. (chair)
  • Lewis, Nathan Saul
  • See, Kimberly
  • Okumura, Mitchio
Defense Date:12 April 2021
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-SC0004993
Resnick Sustainability InstituteUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:03172021-221106133
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Ch. 2. adapted for Ch. 3. adapted for Ch. 4. adapted for Ch. 5. adapted for Ch. 6. adapted for Ch. 7.
Yu, Weilai0000-0002-9420-0702
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14107
Deposited By: Weilai Yu
Deposited On:06 May 2021 20:55
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 18:46

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