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Promoting Active Electronic States in LaFeO3 Thin-Films Photocathodes via Alkaline-Earth Metal Substitution

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journal contribution
posted on 30.06.2020, 13:36 authored by Xin Sun, Devendra Tiwari, David J. Fermin
The effects of alkaline-earth metal cation (AMC; Mg2+, Ca2+, Sr2+, and Ba2+) substitution on the photoelectrochemical properties of phase-pure LaFeO3 (LFO) thin-films are elucidated by X-ray photoemission spectroscopy (XPS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), diffuse reflectance, and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS). XRD confirms the formation of single-phase cubic LFO thin films with a rather complex dependence on the nature of the AMC and extent of substitution. Interestingly, subtle trends in lattice constant variations observed in XRD are closely correlated with shifts in the binding energies of Fe 2p3/2 and O 1s orbitals associated with the perovskite lattice. We establish a scaling factor between these two photoemission peaks, unveiling key correlation between Fe oxidation state and Fe–O covalency. Diffuse reflectance shows that optical transitions are little affected by AMC substitution below 10%, which are dominated by a direct bandgap transition close to 2.72 eV. Differential capacitance data obtained from EIS confirm the p-type characteristic of pristine LFO thin-films, revealing the presence of sub-bandgap electronic state (A-states) close to the valence band edge. The density of A-states is decreased upon AMC substitution, while the overall capacitance increases (increase in dopant level) and the apparent flat-band potential shifts toward more positive potentials. This behavior is consistent with the change in the valence band photoemission edge. In addition, capacitance data of cation-substituted films show the emergence of deeper states centered around 0.6 eV above the valence band edge (B-states). Photoelectrochemical responses toward the hydrogen evolution and oxygen reduction reactions in alkaline solutions show a complex dependence on alkaline-earth metal incorporation, reaching incident-photon-to-current conversion efficiency close to 20% in oxygen saturated solutions. We rationalize the photoresponses of the LFO films in terms of the effect sub-bandgap states on majority carrier mobility, charge transfer, and recombination kinetics.

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