Improving O2 production of WO3 photoanodes with IrO2 in acidic aqueous electrolyte
WO3 is a promising candidate for a photoanode material in an acidic electrolyte, in which it is more stable than most metal oxides, but kinetic limitations combined with the large driving force available in the WO3 valence band for water oxidation make competing reactions such as the oxidation of the acid counterion a more favorable reaction. The incorporation of an oxygen evolving catalyst (OEC) on the WO3 surface can improve the kinetics for water oxidation and increase the branching ratio for O2 production. Ir-based OECs were attached to WO3 photoanodes by a variety of methods including sintering from metal salts, sputtering, drop-casting of particles, and electrodeposition to analyze how attachment strategies can affect photoelectrochemical oxygen production at WO3 photoanodes in 1 M H2SO4. High surface coverage of catalyst on the semiconductor was necessary to ensure that most minority-carrier holes contributed to water oxidation through an active catalyst site rather than a side-reaction through the WO3/electrolyte interface. Sputtering of IrO2 layers on WO3 did not detrimentally affect the energy-conversion behavior of the photoanode and improved the O2 yield at 1.2 V vs. RHE from ∼0% for bare WO3 to 50–70% for a thin, optically transparent catalyst layer to nearly 100% for thick, opaque catalyst layers. Measurements with a fast one-electron redox couple indicated ohmic behavior at the IrO2/WO3 junction, which provided a shunt pathway for electrocatalytic IrO2 behavior with the WO3 photoanode under reverse bias. Although other OECs were tested, only IrO2 displayed extended stability under the anodic operating conditions in acid as determined by XPS.