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Modification of Charge Trapping at Particle/Particle Interfaces by Electrochemical Hydrogen Doping of Nanocrystalline TiO2

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journal contribution
posted on 13.11.2016, 00:00 by Juan M. Jiménez, Gilles R. Bourret, Thomas Berger, Keith P. McKenna
Particle/particle interfaces play a crucial role in the functionality and performance of nanocrystalline materials such as mesoporous metal oxide electrodes. Defects at these interfaces are known to impede charge separation via slow-down of transport and increase of charge recombination, but can be passivated via electrochemical doping (i.e., incorporation of electron/proton pairs), leading to transient but large enhancement of photoelectrode performance. Although this process is technologically very relevant, it is still poorly understood. Here we report on the electrochemical characterization and the theoretical modeling of electron traps in nanocrystalline rutile TiO2 films. Significant changes in the electrochemical response of porous films consisting of a random network of TiO2 particles are observed upon the electrochemical accumulation of electron/proton pairs. The reversible shift of a capacitive peak in the voltammetric profile of the electrode is assigned to an energetic modification of trap states at particle/particle interfaces. This hypothesis is supported by first-principles theoretical calculations on a TiO2 grain boundary, providing a simple model for particle/particle interfaces. In particular, it is shown how protons readily segregate to the grain boundary (being up to 0.6 eV more stable than in the TiO2 bulk), modifying its structure and electron-trapping properties. The presence of hydrogen at the grain boundary increases the average depth of traps while at the same time reducing their number compared to the undoped situation. This provides an explanation for the transient enhancement of the photoelectrocatalytic activity toward methanol photooxidation which is observed following electrochemical hydrogen doping of rutile TiO2 nanoparticle electrodes.